January 15, 2015 Head of Music

ALBUM REVIEW: LIQUID SPIRIT, DELUXE EDITION – GREGORY PORTER

It’s either a testament to the quality of the album, or to Universal’s drive to squeeze as much out of it as possible, that Gregory Porter’s Grammy-winning LP Liquid Spirit has been re-released again. Overall, it’s probably a bit of both. Originally released in 2013, this week sees Universal Bluenote re-release Porter’s third effort (his first on the Bluenote label) which has already become a must have album for soul, jazz, and Radio 2 fans.

 

The album is spectacular, and is reassuring in a time when popular music has become somewhat bland and predictable. The title track, despite being massively overplayed, is nonetheless a wonderful piece of music; Porter’s voice powers over the handclaps and bass, joined by the tight horn arrangement to create a modern jazz classic. ‘Hey Laura’, equally popular on the radio, is a delight: a made-for-radio, three-and-a-half minute ballad with a catchy lyric delivered so brilliantly by Porter. Other highlights include ‘Wind Song’, which sees Porter’s voice glide over a piano-driven track in an incredibly soothing and calming manner; his take on ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’ stands up to any version recorded; and ‘Free’, the album’s social commentary song.

 

This ‘Deluxe Edition’ sees Porter revisit one of the original release’s tracks, ‘Water Under Bridges’, this time with the help of rising star Laura Mvula. In contrast to the original’s starkness, this version adds a new arrangement, with Porter and Mvula trading lyrics well, with Porter ending the song by recalling other songs on the album including ‘Hey Laura’. Also added is his duet with Jamie Cullum, which is good, but falls in comparison with ‘Water Under Bridges’. Yet Porter supersedes both with his take on the Bill Wither’s classic heart-wrenching song ‘Grandma’s Hands’, which he duets with French soul-star Ben L’Oncle Soul. The acoustic guitar of Bill Withers is replaced by the driving force of the piano, which suits Porter in particular well; indeed, this duet is inspired, giving L’Oncle Soul exposure in the UK and US markets, which is mightily deserved.

 

Accompanying this release is a thirty-minute long DVD which features five songs from Porter’s performance with the Metropole Orkest, a fine ensemble of musicians based in the Netherlands. These musicians have been the go-to orchestra for many jazz, soul, and pop acts in recent years, including Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau, who put a live album out of their performance.

 

The DVD features Porter singing ‘Grandma’s Hands’: the original, minimalist version on the album is contrasted with this live performance, which sees the horn and string sections of the Metropole Orkest dominate, re-working the song into something of a soul-jazz standard. Porter handles this in his stride, delivering his vocal with trademark class and finesse. Also featured is an unusual and bold cover of the Muddy Waters classic ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, which is transformed from gritty blues into what might be called ‘gruff-jazz’, with Porter demonstrating his vocal chops backed masterfully again by Metropole Orkest. However, the standout selection from the DVD is the cover of Donny Hathaway’s soul classic ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’, a song covered numerous times by a whole variety of artists. Unsurprisingly, Porter handles this soul number well; his voice, although slightly deeper, is in the same soulful ilk of Hathaway, who himself had a tendency to include many jazz elements in his recordings.

 

It’s easy to be sceptical of this release as another money-making opportunity for Universal and Porter; no doubt financial interests are at play here, but the additions have been carefully crafted, and unlike some ‘Deluxe’ albums, it has not been thrown together using just alternative/out-takes takes or other lesser songs being thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the only annoyance is that the songs on the DVD would be better suited to an audio only release. Whilst it is nice to see a full orchestra at work, and Porter performing, it’s unlikely anyone will be watching this day-after-day. In a similar vein, whilst this album is superb and nothing should detract from that fact, it has been two years since its first release, and his fans – myself included – are itching for a new Gregory Porter. This re-release is unlikely to make that itch go away anytime soon.

George Haffenden

Gregory Porter’s Deluxe Edition of ‘Liquid Spirit’ is out now on Universal Bluenote.