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A Pair From Lewis Porter: Beauty & Mystery/Three Minutes To Four

Dan Bilawsky By

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Lewis Porter is living proof that the marriage of a wide knowledge base and an open mind makes for a beautifully creative whole. As an esteemed author, a revered academic, a highly respected composer, and a first-rate pianist, Porter operates from a unique, variable-angle vantage point occupied by few others. He knows from whence this music came, he's able to arrange his thoughts in clear-headed fashion, he has a thirst for knowledge and a desire to explore the unknown, and he possesses the musical skill set(s) necessary to pull off most anything he desires. These two divergent yet complementary dates make that case.

Lewis Porter
Beauty & Mystery

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious," stated Albert Einstein. In doing so, the great physicist philosophized about understanding and seeking beauty as an ideal with greater dimensions and depth. That quote earns its place as the central thesis of this date, being that it's explored and exploited time and again through the music. Porter put together the headiest of bands to examine this conceptual notion—a trio with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington—and the results are every bit as stimulating as one might expect.

Variety carries the day here, but a palpable sense of cohesion makes everything fit together. There's an agreeable solo piano prologue inspired by the opening notes of Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, a deeply spiritual take on Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" with Patittuci's resonant tones speaking to the soul, a contrafact on "Cherokee" (dubbed "Chasing Lines") that swings and kicks in all the right ways, a "Dazzling Raga" using an exotic scalar pattern as its DNA, and a peaceful waltzing send-off in the form of "Day Is Done." Add to that Porter's Coltrane triptych—the in-the-swing-pocket "Blues For Trane And McCoy" and the choppy and melodically incisive "Birthplace," both featuring guest saxophonist Tia Fuller, and the bass-centric "From Giovanni To Jimmy" nodding simultaneously to Patitucci's heritage and the great Jimmy Garrison—and you start to see how many different ways this music can move.

In engaging with a broadened and unfixed concept of beauty, Porter and his bandmates manage to create an album that's both in keeping with expectations and several steps beyond. This one has deep roots and modernistic branches.

Lewis Porter-Phil Scarff Group
Three Minutes To Four
Whaling City Sound

While both albums under discussion speak clearly to jazz in its present tense and current states, Three Minutes To Four moves further afield. It's a statement built on aural ethnography. Porter and co-leader Phil Scarff tap into their vast shared knowledge of the musics of India, Ghana, and South Africa, along with Western classical language and salt-of-the-Earth jazz, to create alloys unlike (m)any others. Can this quartet swing and burn? Of course. Just listen to Scarff blow over the cooking rhythm section of Porter, bassist John Funkhouser, and drummer Bertram Lehmann on the second part of "Bageshri-Bageshwari." But swing isn't the thing here. This quartet's music embraces far more than jazz's primary pulse and standard currency. The hypnotic strains that introduce "Bageshri-Bageshwari," the dangerously compelling angularity behind "Olivier," and the opening movement of the "Skies Of South Africa Suite" all make that clear. Within that small sampling of songs you have, respectively, a North Indian raga, some Messiaen-ic maneuvering, and bird calls from the South African seaside town of Hermanus to count as primary influences.

Much of this music has a trance-like allure or a curious face, but not all of it. "Long Ago" presents with pseudo-tropical pep, "Branches In The Trees" (from the "Skies Of South Africa Suite") is pure sinister chic, and "Striver's Row" nods to Sonny Rollins in the most conversational and, yes, swinging of ways. It takes a true team to make such a syncretic approach to composing, performing, and programming work, and that's just what we have here. Porter's work with the world-wise Scarff, Funkhouser, and Lehmann proves prosperous in artistic terms. But that's not surprising. Where doesn't Porter thrive?

Tracks and Personnel

Beauty & Mystery

Tracks: Prologue; Birthplace; Bye Bye Blackbird; People Get Ready; Blues For Trane; 1919; Chasing Lines; Dazzling Raga; From Giovanni To Jimmy; Day Is Done.

Personnel: Lewis Porter: piano; John Patitucci: bass; Terri Lyne Carrington: drums; Tia Fuller: soprano saxophone (2), alto saxophone (5).

Three Minutes To Four

Tracks: Journey; Bageshri-Bageshwari: Part 1 (Intoduction, Alap); Part 2; Olivier; Long Ago; Raga Shree, Gajawara Baje Hi RahilaBaje Hi Baje Hi; Skies Of South Africa Suite: Bird Songs Of Hermanus; Branches In The Trees; Three Minutes To Four; Striver's Row; Serially Retro Suite: Dozens, Not Baker's; Retro Cells; Raga Bhairavi: Part 1 (Introduction, Alap); Part 2.

Personnel: Lewis Porter: piano; Phil Scarff: tenor saxophone (4, 8, 10), soprano saxophone (1-3, 6, 9, 11-13), sopranino saxophone (5, 7), tamboura (2, 3, 6, 9, 12, 13); John Funkhouser: bass; Bertram Lehmann: drums.


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