Hour 18 Dominant Singers Gregory Porter and Kurt Elling

Gregory Porter

Kurt Elling has been the dominant male vocalist in jazz for the past 20 years, winning the Down Beat Critics Poll from 2000–2013. Gregory Porter released his first record in 2010 and was recognized in the same poll as a rising star in 2013. He won the critics poll in five of the past seven years, with Elling being recognized in 2018 and 2019. For fans of jazz singing, the regular releases from these two singers are annual highlights. Like all great jazz singers, they both thrive in the company of excellent players including rising stars, Tivon Pennicott, Marquis Hill and Keyon Harrold and established pianists like Lawrence Hobgood, Christian Sands, Joey Caderazzo and Gary Versace. Recent projects from Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

Kurt Elling
In Kurt Elling’s 2011 release, The Gate, Elling and his long-time musical partner pianist Lawrence Hobgood explore a range of progressive rock, pop, soul, R&B and instrumental jazz tunes, most of which have not seen jazz vocal interpretation. Jon Kelman on AllAboutJazz wrote, “Elling and Hobgood take on more contemporary instrumental jazz fare, morphing bassist Marc Johnson’s groove-laden Samurai Hee Haw, from Bass Desires (ECM, 1986), into the quirky reflection on “the life of the mind” on Samurai Cowboy. With only … spare percussive accompaniment and [tenor player Bob] Mintzer buried somewhere in the weeds, Elling creates a compelling vocal orchestra, layering voice-driven bass lines and percussion.”

Of his 2012 release 1619 Broadway ‒ The Brill Building Project Bruce Lindsay wrote, “Elling’s position at the top of the male jazz singers’ tree has been unassailed for over a decade… His richly expressive voice has much to do with this position, but it’s not the whole story. Elling deserves equal praise for the originality of his interpretations and breadth of material. This album is strong on all three counts: Elling selects Songbook classics and pop favorites, throws in a few curveball interpretations and is on top form vocally…”

Elling’s 2015 release, Passion World, his first after Lawrence Hobgood ceded the keyboard chair to Gary Vesace, includes a rare vocal duet with Sara Gazarek.

Samurai Cowboy. Kurt Elling Trio
(Bob Mintzer-ts, Lenny Castro-per, Kurt Elling-voc). From The Gate. Concord Music. 2011.
Come Fly With Me. Kurt Elling Quintet
Kye Palmer-flh, Tom Luer-ts, Laurence Hobgood-p, John McLean-g, Clark Sommers-b, Kendrick Scott-d/cga, Kurt Elling-voc). From 1619 Broadway ‒ The Brill Building Project. Concord Music. 2012.
Você Já Foi à Bahia? Kurt Elling Quintet with Sara Gazarek
(Gary Versace-p/key/org/acc, John McLean-g, Clark Sommers-b, Kendrick Scott-d, Kurt Elling-voc, Sara Gazerak-voc). From Passion World. Concord Music. 2015.

Kurt Elling and Branford Marsalis
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling have formed a highly productive collaboration on tour in 2016 and in the studio, releasing Upward Spiral under Marsalis’s name in 2016 and The Questions as an Elling pressing in 2018. Of Upward Spiral, Dan Bilawsky wrote, “While there are far more ambitious outings in the respective discographies of both of these marquee names, there’s nothing more arresting in either man’s portfolio. Beauty becomes these musicians. They carry the torch of grace to the heavens in their own inimitable upward spiral.”

Doxy. Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling
(Branford Marsalis-sax, Joey Calderazzo-p, Eric Revis-b, Justin Faulkner-d, Kurt Elling-voc). From Upward Spiral. Okeh. 2016.
Lonely Town. Kurt Elling Septet
(Marquis Hill-tp, Branford Marsalis-ts, Joey Calderazzo-p, Stu Minderman-p, John McLean-g, Clark Sommers-b, Jeff “Tain” Watts-d, Kurt Elling-voc). From The Questions. Okeh. 2018.

Gregory Porter Debuts
Gregory Porter appeared as a fully-developed musician at almost 40 years old in 2010. Of his debut recording, Water, Daniel Garrett wrote on Compulsive Reader, “Gregory Porter is an unexpected but welcomed presence, his voice low and manly, sometimes remarkably forceful, and his themes romantic, spiritual, and political.  The male jazz singer now is a rare thing; and a mature and sophisticated man may be even less common.”

In 2012, Porter released his sophomore disc, Be Good, to similar accolades and a growing reputation. Dan Bilawsky wrote, “Debut albums often serve as fine introductions to the work of fledgling artists with potential for greater things, but that wasn’t the case with Gregory Porter’s Water (Motéma, 2010). Porter’s debut, which was nominated for a Grammy Award, presented a vocal soul-jazz juggernaut that seemingly materialized out of thin air as a fully matured musical entity… While the emphasis [of Be Good] is squarely placed on Porter’s own music—he penned nine out of the twelve tunes—the album ends with a double shot of classic jazz. Porter lets loose on a stirring version of Nat Adderley’s Work Song, which features strong solo spots from saxophonists Yosuke Sato and Tivon Pennicott.”

Black Nile. Gregory Porter Octet
(Kafele Bandele-tp, Robert Stringer-tb, Yosuke Sato-as, James Spaulding-as, Chip Crawford-p, Aaron James-b, Emmanuel Harold-d, Gregory Porter-voc). From Water. Motema. 2010
Work Song. Gregory Porter Septet
(Keyon Harrold-tp, Yosuke Sato-as, Tivon Pennicott-ts, Chip Crawford-p, Aaron James-b, Emanuel Harrold-d, Gregory Porter-voc). From Be Good. Motema. 2012

Gregory Porter on Blue Note
For his third release, the grammy-winning Liquid Spirit, Porter moved to Blue Note Records, bringing with him a solid quintet from his previous outing – Yosuke Sato on alto, Tivon Pennicott on tenor, Chip Crawford on piano, Aaron James on bass, and Emanuel Harrold on drums. One of the highlights is Movin’, a gospel inflected hard bop tune featuring the alto and tenor of Yosuke Sato and Tivon Pennicott.

Dan Bilawsky wrote that Porter’s fourth release, Take Me To The Alley, “…is a passion-fueled collection of music filled with inspired heart-on-sleeve meditations, from-the-mountain-top sermons, glimpses at what could’ve been, and musical testimonials. It’s completely in keeping with his previous work—full of emotional highs and lows, built on a blend of the earthy and cosmopolitan—and just as addictive. It only takes one listen to get hooked….The opener—Holding On—finds Porter sorting out his feelings in an understated setting that’s enriched by Keyon Harrold’s muted trumpet.”

Porter’s next release, 2017’s Nat “King” Cole & Me is an ambitious and, in the end, magisterial tribute to Porter’s musical model, in a lush setting with a string orchestra.

Movin’. Gregory Porter Septet
(Curtis Taylor-tp, Yosuke Sato-as, Tivon Pennicott-ts, Chip Crawford-p, Aaron James-b, Emanuel Harrold-d, Gregory Porter-voc). From Liquid Spirit. Blue Note. 2013.
Holding On. Gregory Porter Nonet
(Keyon Harrold-tp, Yosuke Sato-as, Tivon Pennicott-ts, Chip Crawford-p, Ondrej Pivec-org, Aaron James-b, Emanuel Harrold-d, Gregory Porter-voc, Alicia Olatuja-voc). From Take Me to the Alley. Blue Note. 2016.
Nature Boy. Gregory Porter Quartet
(Christian Sands-p, Reuben Rogers-b, Ulysses Owens-d, Gregory Porter-voc). From Nat “King” Cole & Me. Blue Note. 2017.

Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter, at 52 and 48 years old respectively, should be setting the bar for male jazz vocalists for years to come. They have both embraced challenging and idiosyncratic material in the company of talented players, with consistent results, release after release.

Resources
Kelman, John. (2011, July 13). Kurt Elling: The Gate. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/kurt-elling-the-gate-by-john-kelman.php

Lindsay, Bruce. (2012, November, 14). AllAboutJazz. Kurt Elling: 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/1619-broadway-the-brill-building-project-kurt-elling-concord-records-review-by-bruce-lindsay.php

Loudon, Christopher. (2015, July 27). JazzTimes. Kurt Elling: Passion World. https://jazztimes.com/reviews/albums/kurt-elling-passion-world/

Bilawsky, Dan. (2016, May 19). The Branford Marsalis Quartet With Special Guest Kurt Elling: Upward Spiral. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/upward-spiral-branford-marsalis-okeh-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Bilawsky, Dan (2018, March 20). AllAboutJazz. Kurt Elling: The Questions. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-questions-kurt-elling-okeh-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Garrett, Daniel. (2011, May 17). Compulsive Reader.  A Male Jazz Singer, A Mindful Man of Elements: Gregory Porter and his album Water. http://www.compulsivereader.com/2011/05/17/a-male-jazz-singer-a-mindful-man-of-elements-gregory-porter-and-his-album-water/

Bilawsky, Dan. (2012, February 12). Gregory Porter: Be Good. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/be-good-gregory-porter-motema-music-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

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