Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter- Colston Hall, Bristol, 06/04/16

Over the last five years, the honeyed tones of one Gregory Porter have seeped out from the confines of relative obscurity and begun to gradually permeate into the mainstream.  With his third LP Liquid Spirit revered equally by lovers who swoon at the treacle tenderness of ballads like ‘Water Under Bridges’ and the disk-jockeys who remixed the bejeezus out of its title track, Mr Porter stands on the precipice of album number four as arguably the biggest voice in jazz.

Testament to this success is the swelling crowd which fills Colston Hall to the rafters and takes its seat in time for the man in the hat to saunter onstage, preceded by his otherwise bareheaded, though impeccably dressed band.  The six-piece ensemble (comprised of saxophone, trumpet, drums, double bass, keyboard and grand piano), introduce the sparse keys and snare of ‘Holding On’, a pared down rendering of the singer’s recent collaboration with dastardly dance duo Disclosure.

A sign of possible future flirtation with the electronic finds a counterpoint in the upbeat number which immediately ensues, with ‘On My Way To Harlem’ tracing its way back to Porter’s musical roots in New York.  The pair of career-straddling songs preempts his promise to “play some stuff from all of the albums,” announced to the crowd as the seven onstage pause for their first breath.

Hey Laura’ follows and succinctly exhibits what we have come to expect from the big man’s live performance.  Simple, if disarmingly confessional, lyrics do not crowd the composition, allowing space to scale through gorgeous vocal runs and Tivon Pennicott on sax to elongate a fabulous solo, in so doing garnering warm applause from the assembled.  A slow build up bleeds into ‘Liquid Spirit’ in all of its hand-clapping, toe-tapping infectiousness before a new track, ‘Consequence Of Love’ gets the treatment.

Porter’s dedication of the next song to “the music lovers” heralds a 10-minute solo from Jahmal Nichols on double bass, whose wriggling fingers clamber rapidly up and down the long neck of his instrument.  The crux is reached in its final stages, as he riffs around the unmistakable opening bassline of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, on which the rest of the band eventually collude for a well-rendered version of the Temptations classic.

All but Albert ‘Chip’ Crawford then vacate the stage, allowing the celebrated keys-man to put the grand piano through its paces with a classy piece built around the accompaniment to ‘Water Under Bridges’.  Porter alone rejoins him to provide seated vocals, with the simplicity of the arrangement allowing the singer’s stellar timbre to really shine. Indeed, he is undoubtedly at his most beguiling on this and similarly doe-eyed numbers, ‘Be Good (Lion Song)’, ‘No Love Dying’ and ‘Take Me To The Alley’- the ear-caressing title track of the upcoming album.

The strength of the set, though, rests in the fine balance of these slower songs with the uptempo likes of ‘Musical Genocide’, ‘1960 What?’ and the stomping encore of ‘Free’ never allowing the mood to descend into mawkishness.

At its close Gregory Porter strolls from the stage, the assured star every bit deserving of his billing having delivered an authoritative and immaculate vocal performance.  The singer has, though, been masterfully complemented by the extraordinary musicianship of his band, who he leaves onstage to enjoy their final jam before they begin to depart one by one in its dying strains until only drummer Emanuel Harold is left.  His job expertly done, he departs with a nonchalant wave as the house lights are brought up on  a musically nourished and throughly impressed Colston Hall.

Photo credit: Laurent Robert

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