4 1/2 STARS
Jazz has always carried with it a social narrative with historical ebbs and flows reliant on the polarizing issues of its time. With Immigrant Nation (OA2, 2019), Portland based trumpeter Charlie Porter embraces the forever narrative of American immigration, the historical force of humanity that has formed and enriched this country from its beginnings. The linear timeline of American immigration that widened at the beginning of the twentieth century has narrowed due to the gut wrenching actions of the current administration, providing much artistic impetus to inspire a much needed reaction from the jazz community. Porter follows through with a view and statement from the collective lens of the musicians on this session. Much like Max Roach's We Insist! (Candid, 1960), concerning the civil rights movement of the 1960's, and Roxy Coss' modern narrative piece, The Future is Female (Posi- Tone, 2018), Porter surrounds the listener with a social narrative that is rich musically, and open-ended poetically.
Porter presents twelve compositions divided into two parts: "Leaving Home" and "New Beginnings." The title track sets the mood musically, with solos by Porter and tenor saxophonist Nick Biello displaying a melodic approach to improvisation beginning with and weaving through counterintuitively the rich melodies that one finds from start to finish of this recording.
"Contradictions Within" begins with a march like stride, underpinned by the perceptive bottom end playing of bassist David Wong, pianist Oscar Perez and drummer Kenneth Salters. Porter's solo displays aptly his round, deep tonality and advanced sense of melody that has accompanied his playing throughout his career. As is the case in the entirety of the album, noted forward thinking alto phenom Biello soars for this session on tenor.
As far as tunes that evoke a true sense of narrative in a literary sense, "Second Chance" puts on full display the path that Porter is taking us down. Vocalist Sabine Kabongo speaks of borders as crumbling brick and mortar, while Porter offers an image-laden solo that speaks to hope and the unknown. Intensity subsides and falls into an emotionally rendered response from Biello.
The final piece, "Chant," can be described as memorable in both a sense of melody as well as the embodiment in a complete sense of what is expressed as a whole on the entirety of Immigrant Nation. Porter's lush solo, the deep, haunting response from Biello, and the ending chant conjures the echoes of millions of immigrant souls crossing our borders seeking refuge over centuries of time.
What is most striking about this record is that above and beyond an important and all inclusive social narrative, the music is honest and engaged fully with the embodiment of what jazz is musically. The narrative is expressed without the music being over-produced or obliged to that narrative. The multi-colored compositional content, and soulful playing by all participants magnifies two grand commonalities shared by the American people—that we are a nation of immigrants, and that jazz music is the means by which we most elegantly state our cultural identity.