sun 14/07/2024

Gregory Porter, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Gregory Porter, Royal Albert Hall

Gregory Porter, Royal Albert Hall

Sensational vocal sound and oodles of charisma shine through moments of sentimentality

Gregory Porter: unique and humane spirituality

Gregory Porter’s singing pedigree is impeccable. With a performing history in the American Church of God in Christ, where his mother was a minister, honed by several years before his breakthrough living in hipster-jazz heaven Brooklyn, and performing Off-Broadway, he’s in many ways the ultimate heritage act.

He allies the gorgeous brassy timbres of 1970s R&B with a humane, secular spirituality that wears its heart on its sleeve, and recalls an era when jazz campaigned (more openly than it usually does now, at least) for social justice. All this is entwined in a voice that encompasses rage, desire, generosity and longing in effortlessly honeyed tones, and laser-perfect enunciation.

There were excerpts from all three albums, Water (2010) Be Good (2012) and Liquid Spirit (2013), and a preview of new material. His forthcoming album, Take Me to the Alley, sounds similar, but refines his interest in social justice. Alleys, he explained, are dark, lonely, forgotten places – just the sort of thing to inspire him. The title track is a reflective piece with a pleasingly brassy lustre, though the instrumental section is less interesting than the undogmatic spirituality of the lyrics, which invited the alley-dwellers to “rest here in my garden”. Very few performers could carry off that sentiment without seeming creepy or sanctimonious, yet Porter just beams, and you’d feel the warmth of his sincerity in the balcony.

Other new songs included the less memorable “Holding On”, and a romantic ballad, “Don’t Be a Fool”, with Porter accompanied only by piano. With more space in the arrangement for his voice to wallow, it was a sensuous treat, but it would be a mistake to include more than a couple of songs of this kind on an album. His voice has an unusual richness that needs contrast. It would also be a shame to dilute the humane focus of his lyrics with too much sentimentality. This kind of song still needs balancing with the anger of “1960 What”, still one of his strongest performances.  

He makes a slightly incongruous star on stage

The technical features of his compositions are probably his least striking quality. He has a very slick and skilful band, but Tivon Pennicott’s saxophone ran dangerously close to smooth jazz on “Hey Laura”, for example. The one thing Porter definitely doesn’t need is a veneer, but now and then he was flirting inadvisedly with David Sanborn. Every member of his excellent band had the opportunity for a virtuosic intervention, which they all took in some style, though Porter’s instrumentation is stylistically quite conventional.   

During “On My Way to Harlem" he lists influential artists, including jazz-poet Langston Hughes and musicians Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. In fact, he’s a much more conservative musician than either, but his blend of retro sounds and a genuine social conscience, allied to that sensational baritone and great performing charisma, have created a uniquely lovable proposition. That he doesn’t appeal to edgy jazzers won’t worry him too much, you suspect.

He makes a slightly incongruous star on stage, his elephantine geniality – he’s huge and gangly – defying anyone not to feel uplifted. Last night’s audience adored it. His popularity now seems unstoppable. He became an improbable dance sensation at Ibiza last year when “Liquid Spirit” was remixed by DJ Claptone. The live experience is worth it just for that voice. And when he’s exhausted his musical inspiration, Porter has the integrity and broad appeal to be an excellent President.

Porter was preceded by Nashville latin-jazz singer Kandace Springs, another golden-voiced artist with a foot in several musical genres. Though freshly sprung onto the scene, Springs already has a record deal with Blue Note, and has performed with Prince. Rather like Porter, her material was arguably less distinctive than her voice, which slid from gutsy frankness to ethereal longing with incredible ease. She won over a dubious crowd, quite an achievement in only 20 minutes or so, though with Porter in such luscious form she probably won’t have stuck in many memories by the end of the night.

  • Gregory Porter's new album Take Me to the Alley is released by Decca Records on May 6
His blend of retro sounds and a genuine social conscience have created a uniquely lovable proposition


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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I was there , I was there, wonderful Gregory Porter and superb band of musicians.



I was there too. What a treat listening to that voice of treacle

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