Last Thursday the UK’s current favourite jazz singer Gregory Porter performed live at the historic Maida Vale studios for BBC Radio 2, and we were there to witness a fabulous night of jazz.
What’s better than seeing Gregory Porter once in a year? Seeing him twice, obviously. We stood at the top of the Royal Albert Hall in April having bought a ticket last minute to the opening night of Porter’s nationwide tour, and witnessed over two hours of brilliance. And thanks to our compulsion to enter any competition going, we were among a hundred or so people who had the incredible privilege of seeing Porter once again, this time at the Maida Vale studios with the concert being broadcast live on BBC Radio 2. Safe to say, we had a cracking time.
The broadcast began at 8PM, with Porter’s classy band taking to stage launching straight into ‘Holding On‘, the first single of his latest album Take Me To The Alley. Originally recorded with British dance-duo Disclosure, Porter’s slowed-down, stripped-down jazz version is sublime. Porter had made a fantastic start, his vocal theatrics capturing the small audience, and the band providing Porter with perfect backing.
Finishing the first song of his set to a rapturous applause the ever-humble Porter thanked the crowd, and those listening at home, before launching into frenzied version of ‘On My Way To Harlem‘. One of Porter’s best songs, ‘Harlem‘ appeared on his second album Be Good and tells the story of a young Porter growing up in New York, being exposed to the soul, jazz and blues of the era. Performed live, Porter really was outstanding particularly his growl on the line ‘Marvin Gaye used to play ’round here…’ Equally impressive were Porter’s band, made up of Chip Crawford on piano, Emmanuel Harold on drums, Tivon Pennicott on saxaphone, Jahmal Nicolas on bass, and Chris Storr on trumpet, who provided Porter ample space to showcase his vocal ability, while Porter in return allowed each member to showcase their jazz chops.
Porter took the opportunity the Beeb presented to him to showcase his new album Take Me To Alley, performing stellar versions of the title track, ‘In Fashion‘, ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam‘ and his latest single, the darkly beautiful ‘Consequence of Love‘. Porter’s album has sold well, buoyed by the success of his wildly popular Liquid Spirit released in 2013; it was pretty amazing to see how many in the audience were singing along to his latest release.
A particular highlight of the night was a brilliant version of ‘No Love Dying‘, another selection from his previous album Liquid Spirit. Porter really took it to the next level, showcasing his ability to mix soul and jazz to create his own unique style that is proving widely popular, demonstrated by the call-and-response with the crowd (spot your author below!). Then with the crowd hollering and cheering, Jahmal Nicolas began playing the baseline from The Temptations’ musical masterpiece ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone‘. Indeed, Porter’s take on the Motown classic went down a treat, with his gritty vocal rivalling the original lead by former-Tempt Dennis Edwards. Then, with the crowd going wild, Porter and his band launched into a powerful rendition of ‘Musical Genocide’, once again showing the power behind his voice.
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Then, inevitably, Porter jumped into a rampant version of ‘Liquid Spirit‘, with the audience clapping along in a frenzied fashion, at times overpowering the PA in the studio. But Porter remained impressive, and he gave the crowd what they wanted. Before long it was 9PM and Porter’s time was coming to a close, but not before a blistering rendition of his civil rights song ‘1960 What?‘ taken from his first album Water, and the final song of the set ‘Hey Laura‘, a song that Radio 2 picked up on in 2013/14 and helped make Porter a household name in the UK.
Despite achieving success somewhat later in life, Gregory Porter is surely one of the best artists on the jazz scene right now. We’ve read complaints that he’s not pure jazz, or he’s not that great a singer. We simply don’t agree. This man is incredible and in a short period of time has not only established himself as a great singer and performer, but has also introduced swathes of fans into the world of jazz and soul. For that alone, Porter deserves recognition. Let’s hope he can continue to record and perform to the high expectations that he has set himself.
You can listen and watch Gregory Porter’s performance on BBC iPlayer now!