Chris Daly has no idea what a pyramid scheme is.
Sometimes, the best leaders are the ones that allow and encourage their followers to forge their own paths, making their own contributions to the overall whole. Virtually no one enjoys being micromanaged, while being granted the freedom to do your own thing can lead to entirely new results that otherwise might have gone unexplored. Lest you think this is a promo piece for my upcoming corporate speaking gig on “Unlocking Your Inner Tony the Tiger,” I’m just talking ’bout Ryan Porter and the approach he takes as bandleader on his recently released Force for Good.
As with 2018’s The Optimist, Force for Good was conceived, written and recorded over the past few years with his co-conspirators in LA’s West Coast Get Down, if not the hardest working band in jazz today, at the very least, arguably the best known. The end result is similar: a series of great songs, but no connective tissue marking this as an “album” as opposed to a selection of great singles. At the risk of demanding any ballsy whipper snappers from getting the hell off my lawn, this is somewhat of a shame. While each track stands alone on its own unique strengths, FFG comes across more as a mixtape or West Coast Get Down sampler than a definitive statement by this otherwordly trombonist.
From the opening workout jam of “Madiba” to the closing strains of the equally exploratory “People Talk,” Porter and his band mates clearly are having a blast playing together (as if that were ever in doubt). Whether it’s “Maggie” (inspired by Porter’s mother) or the Stevie Wonder cover of “Blame it on the Sun,” grooves abound, and every musician is given his or her own spotlight to shine. Many of the songs allow for extended solos from some of the baddest muthas playing music of any genre today. Brandon Coleman gets slinky on “Mesosphere,” while Thundercat and Miles Mosley battle it out for bass supremacy on “Carricou” and “Oscalypso” respectively. Throughout, you’ve got the rest of the band proving their bonafides: Kamasi Washington (tenor sax, soprano sax), Tony Austin (drums) and Cameron Graves (Fender Rhodes, piano) each demonstrate what playing together for decades can accomplish. Porter also received contributions from Nia Andrews (vocals), Josef Leimberg (trumpet, percussion), Jumaane Smith (trumpet), Robert Miller (drums), Lyndon Rochelle (drums), Mahesh Bollicarrio (piano), Aaron Haggerty (drums) and Ryan Cross (acoustic bass), and every member adds his or her own seasoning to this stone soup experiment.
If you prefer your jazz experience to focus on one theme carried throughout, Force for Good may not be the album for you. However, if you’re in the mood for a series of vignettes that incorporate everything from hard bop to hip-hop and R&B, Ryan Porter’s latest definitely should be on your list. While you’re at it, make sure to catch me out at the Ramada Inn on the freeway by the adult bookstore as I help navigate today’s waters for tomorrow’s leaders and various other corporate shenanigans.