I've long been a fan of jazz vocalist Gregory Porter. His creamy smooth baritone voice and catchy songwriting have made him a favorite for jazz aficionados worldwide for the last decade. I saw him perform on a scorching Sunday afternoon at the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival where he held the audience enthralled for more than an hour with his unique blend of jazz and soul. He left no doubt that he's not at all over-rated; that he is, in fact, "the real thing."
Now, after a three-year recording hiatus, he is back with his sixth studio album, "All Rise," that is his best effort to date. Here is the ambitious performance that is the culmination of everything his voice and writing are capable of. Instead of the often abstract, enigmatic lyrics of former releases, the songs here are more straight-forward and accessible, ranging from bombastic gospel numbers to sweet, romantic ballads, all with Porter's warm, funky, jazz tones out in front. And where on previous albums Porter was backed by a proficient, but small jazz combo, here he is accompanied by a full horn section, a ten-person choir, and the London Symphony Orchestra string section, as well as his own well-drilled band, resulting in a much more lush, dynamic sound that, thanks to producer Troy Miller, does not sound at all over-produced.
Instead, "All Rise" turns out to be a surprising and welcome amalgam of all the award-winning singer has to offer. Just what is called for in these troubled times. Take a listen!
Earlier this year, I wrote about the burial of Little Richard in the Oakwood Memorial Gardens on the campus of Oakwood University here in Huntsville. Little Richard was an alumnus of this historically black Seventh-day Adventist school that has a rich tradition of musical excellence.
In addition to Little Richard, many other talented musical artists have attended the university over the years, including the award-winning Aeolians, a touring choir of 45-60 members who have travelled the world performing a wide variety of choral masterpieces for appreciative audiences everywhere. In addition, other Oakwood alumni include Metropolitan Opera star soprano Angela Brown, members of the jazz/gospel group Take 6, Nigerian Afropop musician Davido, R&B singer Brian McKnight, and the a capella group Committed who were winners of Season 2 of NBC's "The Sing-Off," and who I had the pleasure of listening to live this past Tuesday night. Made up of Robbie Pressley, Terry Thomas, Maurice Staple, DJ Baptiste Jr., and Geston Pierre, the group sings gospel, pop, soul, and original tunes with tight harmonies and charismatic energy. Not since the Persuasions has a capella sounded so rich and powerful. Catch them if you can!
When I lived in Kansas, I pretty much rooted for the K.U. basketball team, not so much the K.U. football team. When I lived in Boston, I pretty much rooted for the Celtics, not so much the Patriots. When I lived in Syracuse, I rooted for Jimmy Boeheim's Syracuse Orange basketball team, and halfheartedly for the Orange football team. When I lived in El Paso, I cheered on Don Haskins's UTEP basketball team, but not so much UTEP's football team.
Now, I'm down here in SEC country where everything's the reverse (or topsyturvy, as we say here): no one cares about basketball and everyone is crazy about college football. So it has taken me a while (20+ years) to cotton to (as we say here) a favorite team. If you live in Alabama, you have your druthers between the University of Alabama football team or the Auburn University football team. That's it.
Well, this week I finally made up my mind when the news arrived that the entire Alabama football team, as well as other university athletes, coaches, and staff marched to protest racial injustice in the donald's America. And it was led by none other than the famous Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has previously not shown much interest in anything except winning football games, which, of course, is more than enough to make him a true legend here in Alabama.
The group marched from the Mal Moore athletic facility on campus to the Foster Auditorium's schoolhouse door, where, if you remember your Alabama history, Alabama governor George Wallace infamously turned away two African American, would-be students in 1963, with these words: "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
"Today I'm like a proud parent," Saban said at the end of the march. "I'm proud of our team, I'm proud of our messengers over here and I'm proud of the message. I'm very proud of the 'All lives can't matter until Black lives matter' video that we did early on that I think had a very positive impact. That was something we did together as a team. This is something that the team decided to do together as a team, so I'm very proud and supportive of what they are trying to say, and in a peaceful and intelligent way. I'm very pleased to be here today...Through this process, I've learned a lot from our players. I don't get to see the world through the same lens that a lot of our players do. I think I respect and appreciate the lens they see the world in and they live the world in...So this is what helped me grow in my role as a leader: to listen to the players, to learn from the players and to give them the opportunity to do things that could impact social change today."
Now, I'm not naive enough to believe this one little demonstration is going change much down here in the "Heart of Dixie," which by the way is still plastered on every State of Alabama license plate. But it's something. If nothing more than to raise the hackles (as we say down here) of some of those cracker Alabama fans who will maybe consider the possibility, if only for a second, that racial equality is nearly as important as winning football games.
Charles Farley is an author who lives and writes in Huntsville, Alabama.