As previously displayed on his first two GRAMMY-nominated albums, 2011 debut Water and its 2012 follow-up Be Good, Gregory Porter overflows with expression through deep, soulful baritone vocals. Whereas his previous works focused more heavily on political and historical matter, his Blue Note debut Liquid Spirit takes a more personal turn, telling stories of community, affirmation, and love. Porter’s love for the blues, gospel, and soul genres that influence the sounds of Liquid Spirit come from his musical upbringing, citing the renowned vocalist Nat King Cole as a lifelong inspiration alongside saxophonists John Coltrane and Lester Young. As such, the tonal image of the saxophone is evoked as Porter sings, addressing topics familial and romantic as well as historical. The relaxed tone of the Los Angeles native’s vocals deliver sweet, loving lines like those in “Hey Laura” and “Wolfcry,” while “Free” is punctuated with accents and percussion as Porter thanks his parents for their love and sacrifice. Even “Brown Grass,” the album’s emotional low point, shines deceptively with light piano chords that twinkle under Porter’s ever-warm, effortless melodies. Throughout the album, the experiential lyrics written are propelled by the genuine humility and friendliness of Porter’s personality, which is easily carried by the boom of the gentle giant’s thick baritone.
While Water and Be Good employed a larger amount of instrumental solos, Porter takes a more centered role on this third album. These solos are more abridged as well — only three of the album’s fourteen tracks stretch beyond five minutes in length — and whereas his earlier works contained more brass solos and a few scat choruses from Porter himself, Liquid Spirit is mainly populated with saxophone, bass, and piano. This allows Porter’s vocal to shine as the main act of each song, putting his lyrics and comfortable delivery at center stage.
Of Porter’s three albums, Liquid Spirit is the first not to close with an a cappella cover, the previous two showcasing his vocals over classics “Feeling Good” and “God Bless The Child.” Arguably, such a bare display of Porter’s vocals is unnecessary on this collection of songs: he displays emotion and warmth in spades throughout the album such that the reminder of his talent is unneeded, and the conviction of his vocal gives the instrumental underbelly opportunity to further cradle his melody without overpowering it. Porter’s Spirit flows as freely as water here, and as comfortably as he has shown in live performances in the past. Pairing with legendary jazz label Blue Note for the first time on this release, this may be the album that moves Porter closer toward legendary status as well.