Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter, Take Me To The Alley

Gregory Porter’s popularity as a singer/songwriter sets him apart within genres and categories – as of press time, Take Me To The Alley (Blue Note) is the first jazz record in the UK in 10 years to break into the top five album list, placing just behind Drake. It’s easy to become infatuated with his booming baritone voice, sweet soul jazz crooning and musical grooves. Porter has the same ability as Bill Withers to charm and comfort you, and get you to sing along. Alley is the follow-up to his Grammy-winning Liquid Spirit, a gorgeously crafted jazz album with pop leanings, and on it Porter strikes that unique balance again, leading with a stripped down yet more heartfelt version of “Holding On,” a tune first released as a DJ remix by electronica group, Disclosure. The songs have a stylistic malleability that easily crossover, whether as glorious ballads (“Consequence of Love”) or bluesy showstoppers like “Don’t Lose Your Steam.” Working again with producer Kamau Kenyatta and his terrific band – pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James, drummer Emanuel Harrold and saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, among them — Porter’s musical stories, particularly the blissfully percussive “In Heaven, “ which features a divine solo by trumpeter Keyon Harrold, is catchy enough to be your ear worm, but the tunes that ground the album and make it truly soar are the stirring title track, a smooth, silky “Insanity” and the lushly romantic “Don’t Be A Fool,” each of which illustrate Porter’s skill to mix  poignancy with inspiration. That other voice you hear paired with Porter on these tracks is the angelic singer, Alicia Olatuja, a standout talent in her own right. (14 tracks; 60 minutes)


Beautiful Life is an upscale entertainment that confidently establishes Dianne Reeves as an adult contemporary R&B singer of romantic ballads and mid-tempo love songs. Producer Terri Lynn Carrington surrounds Reeves with first-rate jazz and studio players and the recording sounds deep and lush. Obviously designed for maximum radio play, with arrangements that employ up-to-the-minute grooves and after-hours rhythm, Reeves gives Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” a quiet storm makeover, Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors” a funky, slam-dunk read and offers up a dazzling original, “Cold,” that features an irresistible chorus.

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Singer and songwriter Gregory Porter’s baritone is one the most captivating instruments in present day jazz. Deep and sonorous, it’s matched by the affability and charisma of the singer who grew up in his mothers’ church and cites the Bakersfield Southern Gospel Sound as well as his family’s Nat King Cole record collection as key influences. On his two previous records for the independent Motema label, Waterand Be Good (the latter was this writer’s picks for the best jazz vocal album in 2012,) Porter established himself as a modern troubadour and most directly carries on the tradition of Bill Withers and Sam Cooke by writing his own uplifting, meaningful and positive songs. Continue reading


Singer/songwriter Gregory Porter has made the great jazz vocal album of 2012 with his sophomore recording, “Be Good,” an intoxicating mix of storytelling and elegant musicianship, sprinkled with Motown backbeats and fleet horn arrangements by Kamau Kenyatta. Porter, whose debut, “Water” (Motema, 2010) was nominated for a Grammy®, started out singing in jazz clubs in college, later creating a one-man theatrical tribute to Nat King Cole and eventually ending up on Broadway in “It Ain’t Nothing But The Blues.” That performance background is evident when you listen to Porter’s tunes; the songs on “Be Good” are structured as narratives, taking up residence in your head, and you’re happily struck by how hummable, soulful and memorable they are. Credit veteran producer Brian Bacchus (Norah Jones) who frames Porter with right-on accompaniment – pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold hold down the brilliant rhythm section — and essentially lets Porter do his thing.

Porter definitely accentuates the positive and his hearty singing style evokes Bill Withers’ soulful endeavors. On “Real Good Hands,” he infuses a story about new romance with a bluesy cadence and again on the title track, “Be Good (Lion’s Song),” a parable about beauty and seduction set in ¾ time. But it’s the fabulously catchy love letter “On My Way To Harlem” where Porter pulls out the stops and salutes heroes like Duke, Langston Hughes and Marvin Gaye, complete with a rubbery bassline, tick-tock percussion, and punchy horns. It’s a song that shows why Porter is boundless by genre and subject matter; he can soothe (“Painted on Canvas”) or inspire (“Mother’s Song”), but Porter always moves you with his righteous lyrics and 
gentleman’s croon. (12 tracks; 62:09 minutes)    


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