Giving Thanks and Taking Stock in Take Five, with Gregory Porter, Wayne Escoffery & More

Apr 12, 2020

New music that speaks to our moment, with uplift and determination.

Gregory Porter, “Thank You”

The new album by Gregory Porter, ALL RISE, concludes with a song called “Thank You.” A rousing gospel number complete with handclaps and a Hammond organ, it’s the kind of song you could imagine preceding either an encore or an altar call.

The title phrase appears more than 70 times in the song, sung either by Porter or his backing choir — and that statement of gratitude comes pointed variously at a divine presence or an earthly connection. “You put the spark and the flame and the fire, you inspire me,” he sings at one point in the song, which Blue Note released as a single last week.

Porter originally wrote the song to show appreciation for his fans and supporters. “But in this difficult time,” he adds in a press statement, “I wanted to also thank all those who are working on the frontlines, those who are looking out for us. This song is about the roots of our faith that we can lean on to bring us through this dark valley. It is for family, for friends, for everyone. This song is for you.”

ALL RISE will be released on Blue Note Records on Aug. 28; preorder here.

Wayne Esoffery, “The Humble Warrior”

The title track of tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery’s The Humble Warrior refers to a particular breed of fallen hero in the jazz community — dearly missed souls like Harold Mabern and Larry Willis. (If he were to compose the song today, he could expand that list to include Ellis Marsalis, Onaje Allan Gumbs and too many others.) “They were all so loved, and it’s not just because they were great players,” Escoffery told me for the album’s liner notes. “The title of that tune is a nod to them, and also a reminder to myself, in that that’s what I’ve always strived to be.”

Throughout The Humble Warrior, Escoffery features what has become a sterling working band, with David Kikoski on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums. On several tracks, including this one, they’re also joined by trumpeter Randy Brecker. The melody is wistful yet determined, with Escoffery’s solo in particular conveying the will to push on.

The Humble Warrior is available now from Smoke Sessions Records.

Ray Suhy-Lewis Porter Quartet, “Trail of Loss”

Though he’s probably best recognized for his work in Six Feet Under, a leading death metal band, guitarist Ray Suhy has considerable affinity for jazz — a side of his musicianship that comes across clearly on Transcendent, his second album with pianist Lewis Porter. Due out this Friday, it also features an ace rhythm team, with Brad Jones on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. They lock into a plaintive, polyrhythmic modal waltz on “Trail of Loss,” an elegy by Suhy.

His guitar playing is measured and mindful, with a few moments that nod to the lightning influence of a precursor like John McLaughlin. Porter — the same Dr. Lewis Porter you may know from our jazz-historical series Deep Dive — plays Fender Rhodes throughout the track, taking a solo just over three minutes in.

Transcendence will be released on Sunnyside Records on Friday; preorder here.

John DiMartino, “Rain Check”

Spend a little time with Passion Flower: The Music of Billy Strayhorn, which Sunnyside released last week, and you’re likely to draw the conclusion that it wasn’t a stretch for anybody involved. That’s not meant as faint praise; it’s an acknowledgment of the tonal and lyrical resources that DiMartino brings to the task, and the evident feeling he has for Strayhorn’s songs. He’s perfectly met in that respect by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Lewis Nash — a crew as astute and sensitive as this music would seem to require.

DiMartino’s quartet fashions a cool, waltzing “Daydream” and a brightly swinging “U.M.M.G.,” among other highlights. But there’s a special shine in their take on “Rain Check” — a phrase many of us have been compelled to use in recent weeks. (Don’t miss the moment in his solo when DiMartino quotes “Three Blind Mice.”)

Amina Figarova, Persistence

Pianist and composer Amina Figarova has often worked with a chamberlike sextet, so in one sense her new album, Persistence, represents change. The album, which Figarova has released on her own AmFi Records, introduces a band called Edition 113, with Rez Abbasi on guitar, Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Figarova plays synthesizers as well as piano, joined as usual by her partner Bart Platteau, a flutist who branches out on EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument).   

The album’s title track is a declaration of purpose, with its bright, airy melody over an ostinato in busily irregular meter. Abbasi takes the first deft solo, followed by statements on synth and drums. As for that one-word title, it refers to the ambition and drive that brought Figarova from her native Azerbaijan to the heart of the New York scene — but of course, persistence is also a word that many of us are clinging to now, as we look toward a horizon line.