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Porter's 'Spirit' shows growth in performing, songwriting

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

‘Liquid Spirit'

Gregory Porter (Blue Note)

Singer Gregory Porter continues to establish his growing role in jazz with “Liquid Spirit.” Not only does he present music of a variety of shapes and styles, but he does it in settings from duos with pianist Chip Crawford to bands with three horns. Plus, he wrote all of the songs except for his versions of “The In Crowd” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” A busy and talented guy, this Gregory Porter. One of the best outings is “Water Under Bridges,” in which he sings about being told to “get over” a failed relationship because it is like “water under bridges that have already burned.” Besides his marvelous baritone voice and a great sense of song, he also has the soul of a poet in his lyrics. “Moving,” for instance, talks about his feeling of being rootless as his important person moves away from him. While sad in its lyrics, the song grooves nicely in a horn-fed, mid-tempo arrangement. This album emphasizes how lucky Pittsburgh jazz fans have been to have seen Porter frequently in the past few years.

— Bob Karlovits

‘Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival'

Mack Avenue SuperBand (Mack Avenue)

Busy recording companies have a great advantage at putting bands together. After all, the talent is there, and forming a band becomes simply a matter of pulling individuals together. Similar to the heydays of GRP and Concord — when both were great jazz labels — Mack Avenue now can accomplish that easy get-together, as “Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival” shows. With a lineup featuring vibes star Gary Burton, Pittsburgh trumpeter Sean Jones, saxophonist Tia Fuller and drummer Carl Allen, among others, the band rips through a set from the 2012 Detroit festival. It is highlighted by Jones' “Liberty Avenue Stroll,” Burton's version of “All Blues” and pianist Alfredo Rodriguez's solo version of “Guantanamera.” The album is not a complete success, though. A mid-tempo look at “Nuages” with pianist Aaron Diehl and guitarist Evan Perri completely misses the point. The closing “Honky Tonk” with the whole lineup is an uninspired piece of jamming. But the strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

— Bob Karlovits


Joe Nichols (Red Bow)

After 11 years as one of the most effective traditional country singers of his generation, Joe Nichols crosses over to rocking contemporary songs, most of them about seducing young women and sentimentalizing the rural lifestyle. Nichols' beefy baritone gives more muscle to these up-tempo celebrations than most of the younger male artists currently topping the charts. Nichols has always been good at injecting personality into novelty songs, and he elevates even the corniest of these formulaic tunes (“Yeah,” “Hee Haw”) by giving them a swagger equal to that of Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins. Give him a memorable song like “Gotta Love It” — reminiscent of Nichols' 2010 top hit “Gimmie That Girl” — and he stands above most of the new country stars to rise in his wake. Nichols frontloads “Crickets” with his aggressive attempt to fit into modern country conventions. But he reminds everyone of what an outstanding, old-fashioned country singer he can be when he uses the tail end of the 16-song collection to present the philosophical “Old School Country Song,” about how chat rooms and cellphones don't soften the pain of heartbreak, and a fine cover of Merle Haggard's classic “Footlights.” Here's hoping Nichols' contemporary move helps keep this traditionalist relevant and on the charts.

— Associated Press


Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (Blackheart)

One of Joan Jett's targets in the track “TMI” from her new CD, the aptly titled “Unvarnished,” are those who “make a fashion of passion.” The contempt is not surprising: For the pioneering female rocker, passion has never been an ordinary word (to paraphrase Graham Parker). When it comes to music, at least, Jett has always come across as someone for whom “I Love Rock 'n' Roll” is more than just a hit song lyric — it's a statement of purpose.

So it goes on this, her first album in seven years. Jett's fire remains undiminished as she continues to make no concessions to fashion. Sure, strings turn up on two numbers, but, otherwise, it's Jett doing what she has always done so well — crunchy riffs, catchy choruses and attitudes that run the gamut from snarling to reflective. “I hope this train don't fall off the track,” she worries on “Make It Back.” Little chance of that.

— The Philadelphia Inquirer

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