Portland based trumpeter/composer Charlie Porter is back, and following the trend industry wide over the past year, has released a finely crafted collection of pieces attached to a social narrative. Hindsight examines how we act in hindsight dealing with the long term societal struggles of racism, corruption and inequality. While two of the pieces feature the lyrics of Majid Khaliq and Madelaina Piazza, Porter has managed to weave the emotional uncertainty of daily life during the Covid-19 pandemic into bittersweet melodies performed by a stellar cast.
Porter is no stranger to the abstract art of applying social commentary to instrumental composition, as this recording follows his acclaimed statement of the American condition, Immigration Nation (OA2, 2019). The two albums feature some common denominators in superb alto saxophonist Nick Biello, and the grounding presence of bassist David Wong and drummer Kenneth Salters. New to the crew is pianist Orrin Evans, vibraphonist Behn Gillece, guitarist Mike Moreno and transcendent vocalist Jimmie Herrod.
Getting down to the bones of the music, Hindsight is a fine jazz album that has two distinct chapters, and a delightful tag at the end. The opener, "Tipping Point," is a neo-bop gem that swings hard and fast, highlighted by Wong's relentless bass line. Porter's thick sound and elegant articulation is evident from the outset, as is the madly swinging Biello's otherworldly talents. The addition of Evans pays immediate dividends, as is the case throughout these nine tunes. While his solos are always an intrepid delight, his comping behind his mates enables the rhythm section to unspool freely and provide a seamless center for soloists to orbit about.
Adding Gillece to the mix for the title track, Porter offers a lovely ballad featuring a melody so beautiful, it seems as if the soloists handle it with special regard. Porter's muted solo is lush, his long tones expressing romance and melancholy. Evans shines once again, reimagining the piece with colorful chord voicings.
"Things Fall Apart" sends the album on a completely different path. Herrod's vocals are surrounded by a darker, electric fabric of sound, with the vibe set primarily by guitarist Moreno, and electric bassist Damian Erskine's Jaco-esque work. Herrod beautifully renders Khaliq's prose, and is joined by rapper Rasheed Jamal in that recitation. There is a slight disconnect in the arrangement as Jamal enters the fray in terms of phrasing, acting much like a double time solo within a ballad.
"In Short Supply" takes yet another turn, incorporating African instrumentation. Bassekou Kouyate joins on n'goni (African traditional guitar), and Mahamadou Tounkara provides amazing depth on tama (African Talking Drum). Herrod sings melody without lyrics, like a fresh wind blowing off the water.
While six of the tunes in this collection sound more like modern, post-bop jazz with traditional instrumentation, Porter is not afraid to wander into different quadrants of his imaginative compositional prowess. "For Ellis" welcomes his newborn son to the world in a very personal way. Porter's solo trumpet is framed by a choral arrangement performed by the Hallowed Halls Gospel Choir. The piece is detached from common grounding elements, left adrift and guided by Porter's gentle, yet abstract manifestations on trumpet.
Albums cobbled from work of seemingly disparate parts, can at times be seen as unfocused artistically. But having lived through 2020, an epic year of isolation we have all endured, the music on this album more seems like echoes of a mind left to the vagaries of time and space. It somehow finds a way to the listener's inner sanctum and sheds a light on that which we have all experienced collectively. It will be interesting in so many ways some decades down the road, to look back at this period of time in terms of jazz composition. With Hindsight, Porter leaves a blaze on that particular trail.