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Listening Post: New discs by Gregory Porter and Pat Metheny

Jazz Gregory Porter, “Take Me to the Alley” (Blue Note). The similarity of Kurt Elling’s and Gregory Porter’s vocal timbre is going to make the next few weeks a prime period for male jazz singers in America. With new discs by new female jazz singers – often beautiful ones – seemingly released twice a week, male jazz singers – especially those as fine as Gregory Porter and Kurt Elling – are relatively few and far between. With a terrific new Elling collaboration with Branford Marsalis coming in June, Gregory Porter’s new disc is a kind of welcome prelude of things to come. The trouble with it is the one that bedevils so much of current jazz recording: too many singers and instrumentalists want to be composers and performers both and not enough are content with just being performers. Porter has a full, well-developed case of mediocre composeritis on “Take Me To the Alley.” Everything on the disc is sung by Porter and is by Porter the songwriter. His proficiency and warm sound in the former role so far exceed his talent for the latter that you can’t help regret that at least half of it hadn’t been devoted to pop and jazz standards. On “Fan the Flame” his scat singing, for instance, is so much greater than such lyrics as “raise your fist in the air and be sweet/tear town the walls of hate/fill up the empty bowls of the hungry/ break the sacks and let the rice run free/ Crack the backs of the tax for me/ Stand up on the seat with your dirty feet/raise your fist in the air and be sweet/be sweet.” Nobility of tendentious sentiment doth not a great jazz singer make however admirable he is. Even so, Gregory Porter has been a huge gift to jazz song for years. Three stars out of four. (Jeff Simon)

Pet Metheny, “The Unity Sessions” (Nonesuch, two discs); “Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny” (Nonesuch). The word “ick” is not exactly acceptable in the terminology of American jazz. Nevertheless, some of the electroinc synthesizer sounds of Pat Metheny and, especially, keyboardist Guilio Carmassi on his otherwise first-rate two-disc catch all of music by his “Unity” group are definitely of the ick variety – a kind of sonic electronic equivalent of confectioner’s sugar. The terrific news is that in the two disc “Unity” sessions, they are, by no means the baseline determinant of what you’ll otherwise hear. Would you believe, among those things, a duet with Metheny and saxophonist Christ Potter on the hoary jazz rocket-tempoed showpiece “Cherokee?” And, yes, it’s on the same disc as an Ornette Coleman tune called “Police People.” What can’t be denied over the course of two discs here is how great the core of the band is at its center: incendiary saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and brilliant drummer Antonio Sanchez, along with Metheny. When the Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny, the results are somewhat different. Cuong Vu is a Vietnam-born trumpet player in Metheny’s band and an admitted Metheny protege. Says Cuong Vu, “still to this day hearing Pat reminds me of why I play music and try to do what I do. I had instantly become of the league of hero-worshipping fans.” Accompanied by the rest of Cuong’s group – drummer Ted Poor and bassist Stomu Takeishi – the results are much freer than most of the cuts on Metheny’s Unity diksc. Metheny admits his father played the trumpet and he himself started out on the instrument. “Somewhere inside me, some kind of trumpet consciousness has remained deeply ingrained in every note I play.” Drummer Ted Poor is, as Metheny happily points out, a monster on Cuong’s record. Ratings: three stars for the Unity Sessions, three and a half for Cuong Vu. (Jeff Simon)