By Hrayr Attarian
Charlie Porter Immigration Nation
Charlie Porter – Trumpet/flugelhorn
Nick Biello – Tenor saxophone
Oscar Perez – Piano
David Wong – Bass
Kenneth Salters – Drums
Sabine Kabongo – Vocals (5)
Trumpeter Charlie Porter’s second release as a leader, Immigration Nation, is a stunning magnum opus that demonstrates a maturation of the ideas and concepts explored on Porter’s eponymous debut. Moreover, this tribute to America and its immigrants is a many layered, two-part work that is both multifaceted and thematically cohesive. Porter leads a like-minded quintet through his stimulating and emotive original music with a rare blend of sophistication and organic spontaneity.
The album is presented in two sets. The first six tracks make up “Leaving Home,” which brims with a mix of excitement and tension. The cinematic “Contradictions Within” opens with percolating notes that cascade like raindrops. The band states the yearning and buoyant core melody around which Porter weaves a mellifluous and bluesy improvisation. Saxophonist Nick Biello responds with his own muscular and vibrato-filled soliloquy that is fiery and passionate with hints of angst. Pianist Oscar Perez bounces crystalline phrases off the ensemble with agility and elegance—finishing his turn in the spotlight on a hopeful tone.
Elsewhere, Perez lets loose a set of darkly hued chords that shimmer with melancholy on the ballad “Second Chance.” Guest vocalist Sabine Kabongo sings Porter’s poignant lyrics, co-written by Jacob Miller, with captivating expressiveness. Porter and Biello take turns embellishing the song’s main motifs with poetic introspection. Kabongo concludes with a warm and intimate rendition of the rest of the verse.
The album’s second half, “New Beginnings,” opens with the Western classical-influenced “The Privileged Few.” Porter’s solemn refrains, with their burnished sound, meander among the band’s rumbling vamps. Porter and Biello’s duet sets the dramatic mood for the remainder of the tune. In addition to Perez’s, Porter’s, and Biello’s virtuosic extemporizations and contemplative exchanges, the piece features drummer Kenneth Salters’ reserved, yet dynamic, polyrhythmic beats.
Finally, on the sublime “Chant,” bassist David Wong starts off with pensive and eloquent unaccompanied lines. The wistful swelling of the collective performance follows—creating a moving and expectant ambience against which the band members’ brief and lyrical solos overlap for a kaleidoscopic effect. Unison chanting by the musicians brings this superb recording to a close.
On Immigration Nation, Porter perfectly tells the story of the immigrant experience with all its nuances, its fears, hopes, and joys. He has succeeded at this using musical notations where others have tried and failed with words. The disc cements Porter’s status as one of the most brilliant and imaginative contemporary composers of mainstream jazz.