It has been a while since the luxury of devouring music from first note to liner notes to needle hitting label.
It started with copping the 12″ Slick Rick and Dougie Fresh hit “The Show” and ended with New Edition’s album Heartbreak with a Menudo and Anita Baker obsession in between: sessions in my parents’ wood paneled basement to examine, ingest and become the music.
I would slice that album cover open, slide out the sleeve, handle the vinyl gingerly and relish how the needle filled the room with the very soul of the artist we were spinning. The story, the voice, the rhythm, the music was on heavy rotation because I had to understand every nuance, figure out how they could tap into the place where I would swoon in affinity.
As a writer, a poet, a singer it is the goal to find just the right arrangement of words to confirm for the listener a reader seeking confirmation that they are just human. that this is part of life and love and beauty.
The other night I couldn’t get words to come.
The ideas were there just within reach, but I couldn’t get the lines to make images, tap into emotion—so I went in search of inspiration. My sister had mentioned the name of a new singer who had impressed her. She does a far better job of following new artists and listening to new music, so I went in search of the email where she had written the name — Gregory Porter.
Lightning flashed to announce rain, so I took the hint and decided it wasn’t a night for writing.
Surfing the web wasn’t as tactile as unwrapping an album, but I found him on youtube and clicked on a recording session. The black and white image, the head phones and the bare bones feel of it intrigued me — but then he began to sing and I was instantly enamored. I couldn’t decide what was most striking — the sophisticated smooth, the poetic phrasing, the brooding tenor, the boyish innocence—all of it was jazz: eclectic and human.
I didn’t realize how long it had been since the purity of jazz — my rummaging through Ella and Sarah and Billie and Ellington and Davis and Coltrane to master the sensuality of being human.
But on this rainy night, a new voice, reminiscent of Nat King Cole, paid homage to jazz traditions with soul all his own. I nestled close to his sweet tenor and gave myself over, discovering beautiful gems just beneath the melody:
The heart-wrenching metaphor for taming man in “Be Good/The Lion Song;”
The crowds abandoning Harlem when they learned that “Langston doesn’t live [there] anymore” but Porter’s insistence that “You can’t keep him from the place where he was born…” in “On My Way to Harlem;”
Recounting the admonishment to get over it with the striking image of “…water under bridges that have already been burned” to emphasize how futile his longing is in the song, “Water;”
And his “checking for the weather and the time” to get his bearings when she leaves and he finds himself floundering in “wind that blows from hurricanes that come just after gray clouds fill [his] eyes” in the melancholy farewell, “Illusion.”
The masters of horn, string, skin and keys that take the stage with him complete the seduction, drawing you through each storyline with steady hand and enviable expertise and before you know it, you are on the other side of a stormy night renewed; inspired and not quite sure how you got there…
Except for the snatches of a timeless voice blessed with a supernatural way with words.