When, in November of 1996, saxophonist Art Porter was killed in a boating accident, smooth jazz was robbed of a talent that could never be replaced. He was thirty five and had been journeying to a remote part of Thailand where he was booked to perform in a jazz festival. Yet for someone so young his musical legacy was already considerable.
His first album, the 1992 ‘Pocket City’, was produced and engineered by Jeff Lorber. It immediately gained both critical acclaim and radio play on smooth jazz and urban stations while the collections that followed, ‘Straight To The Point’, ‘Undercover’ and the astounding ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’, all cemented his position within the upper echelon of highly sophisticated, yet hard driving, contemporary jazz.
In 1998, Art’s close friend, producer and drummer Guy Eckstine, gathered together some of the players who had previously worked with Porter to pay their own special tribute to his life and work. They included Lorber, Gerald Albright, Paul Jackson Jr., Nathan East, Tom Grant and Lee Ritenour with the result being the CD ‘For Art’s Sake’. Not only did it revisit some of Porter’s most compelling tracks but also laid down previously unreleased material that is now out there for his fans to enjoy into posterity.
Take for example the edgy, mid tempo ‘Little Rock’ that was written by Lorber and which takes its name from Porter’s home town where his musical development began at an early age. Becoming part of his father's band, and trying out several instruments before finally settling on sax, Porter, at age 16, encountered some problems. Being under 21 he was barred from playing in clubs. A law suite resulted and, as a consequence, legislation was passed that allowed under-age performers to work if supervised by a parent or guardian. The Arkansas State Attorney General responsible for this victory for Porter, and for all young musicians that followed him, was no other than that saxophone playing President to be, Bill Clinton.
‘For Art’s Sake’ also delivers other previously unheard cuts including fabulously remixed versions of the title tracks from his ‘Pocket City’ and ‘Straight To The Point’ projects plus a cool interpretation (with Tom Grant) of the classic ‘The Christmas Song’. Elsewhere the complete 23 minute 37 second live rendition of ‘Straight To The Point’ demonstrates the magic that can happen when a top class performer is allowed to break free from the shackles of a studio environment yet truth to tell, several other Eckstine’s selections show off Porter’s mastery of the live setting. The beguiling light and shade of ‘Texas Hump’ is one such tune and others are the moodily funky ‘Flight Time’ and ‘Lake Shore Drive’ which stands up as a slice of picture perfect smooth jazz.
The chillingly atmospheric ‘Passion Sunrise’ (from the ‘Pocket City’ CD) demonstrates just how artistically versatile Porter really was yet the biggest tribute of all comes with a Porter composition that, for the album, Eckstine titled ‘Mr. Porter’. Here, with the help of Lorber, Albright, Ritenour, Evan Marks and Alec Milstein, Eckstine utilizes this handsomely, funk enriched, gem to pay homage to what Porter was all about.