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Gregory Porter/Donald Smith/Mansur Scott/Paul Zanner’s Blue Brass: Great Voices of Harlem

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Most buyers will be attracted to this tri-voice project because of jazzman-of-the-hour Gregory Porter. And Porter certainly doesn’t disappoint, offering a dynamic, scat-lined “Moanin'” (reminding us just how much he can sound like Sammy Davis Jr.), a dreamy “Mona Lisa” and an aching “Over the Rainbow” that ranks among his best recordings. But less-celebrated album-mates Donald Smith (brother of keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith) and Mansur Scott prove equally scintillating contributors. All are superbly supported both by trombonist Paul Zanner’s brassy septet and deft arrangements from Peter Massink and Zanner’s keyboardist, Martin Reiter.

Smith exercises his ebony soulfulness on three tracks, including an appropriately spacious, occasionally screeching reading of his brother’s “Expansions” and a gently heartfelt if slightly overripe “My One and Only Love.”

Scott, justly known as the “jazz mayor of Harlem,” whose roots entwine with those of Mingus and Lee Morgan, is given the most space and demonstrates the greatest range, traveling from a lovely “Stella by Starlight” and a uniquely punchy “Days of Wine and Roses” to a glorious treatment of Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” and the sassy, rambling chain-gang narrative “Doing Hard Time.”

All three team for the disc’s intended centerpiece, a ruminative reading of Silver’s “Peace.” But the collection’s true apex is Smith’s “Watermelon Man,” a masterwork of bawdy desire.

Originally Published