Issues of Life
One to treasure, Issues of Life opens with the gloriously funky Moanin’, one of the strongest tracks on a demonstrably powerful collection, in which that throaty tenor of Gregory Porter is more than a match for the superlative playing throughout.
The tempo, as you would expect from a Hardbop classic, is upbeat from the off, with a fluent stream of scatting by Porter, buoyed by a soaring trumpet from Barney Girlinger. This version of the Art Blakely classic finds its first official release on this CD. Not for the last time does Porter sound like an old blues man, twice his age.
Several bands feature, including the Infinity Quartet, whose saxophonist David Murry is also a superb arranger: Be My Monster Love, lyrics by Ishmael Reed, has been interpreted by Macy Gray, but this version of the love song is more meaty, with Porter’s laid back vocal a footing for a stunning Murry solo. ‘My neck is yours, suck me until I’m anaemic,’ pleads Porter.
As a performer and a writer, you have to expect Porter to draw from a medley of influences, rooted in personal experience and the collective experience of the African-American community in America, particularly in the 1960’s, and the biographical surfaces in the great Issues of Life, a collaboration with Zak Najor from Zbonics.
That desire to invest the lyrics with his own empirical marrow is omnipresent in About the Children (accompanied by the David Murray Infinity Quartet), a gorgeous ballad with stunning bass and piano from Jaribu Shahid and Marc Cary. Hope is a Thing With Feathers is an extension of About The Children, with one notable difference: Ishmael Reed’s lyrics transmute as poetry with sharp edges.
She Danced Across the Floor, a get you out of bed on a Sunday morning track, is, frankly, faultless, electronically remixed for this CD, with an infectious ampleness to the percussion. A song for the summer in your head, on a dull January day.
1960 What? Gets the full Opolopo Kick and Bass Rerub treatment: a caustic lyric by Porter, epic in its sweep across the America of Kennedy and Johnson, ‘hey,the motor city is burnin, and that ain’t right,’ his voice as onomatopoeic as the driving bass and percussion. ‘There was a man, voice of a people, shots rang out, yes it was a gun’ is recited like an old school preacher, but with the bark of the dispossessed in the eye of a hurricane.