Gregory Porter – All Rise
(Blue Note 0862053 – CD review by Mark McKergow)
Masterful singer Gregory Porter delivers his first album of original songs for four years with this rich collection, striking a balance between wistful reflection and social awareness that hits the mood of 2020.
It’s hard to think that Porter, The Voice in The Hat, was unknown to us a decade ago. His larger-than-life persona, distinctive to both the eye and the ear, first hit these shores in 2011 on Later with Jools Holland. The following year he was being introduced by Jamie Cullum at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, where he could freely roam the Promenade unrecognised and sit in at the late night jam session – being a proper jazz musician, he can make his music work without rehearsal. A few years later Porter was selling out the Royal Albert Hall in a morning. His 2021 UK tour features four RAH shows; that is getting on towards Eric Clapton territory.
Porter’s rich and distinctive baritone voice is a huge asset; immediately recognisable, full of character and power and yet capable (as on the delightful waltzing Merry Go Round here) of lightness and subtlety. He can crank up the intensity without sounding forced or strained – the dramatic Long List Of Troubles see Porter running wild over Ondrej Pivec’s stylish Hammond organ. Revival Song, the first single to be released from the album, is a masterclass in soulful expression in a Work Song vein with a top-class choir backing up Porter’s calls for renewal.
In all the rich variety of music, it is easy to overlook the fact that The Voice not only performs these songs with passion, variety and skill, but he has also written (or in just one case, Revival Song, co-written) them all. Frank Sinatra, the previous recipient of this epithet, penned but one lyric in his long career (This Love Of Mine in 1941). This being the 21st century Porter has to work twice as hard, and his song-writing is starting to match his performance. If Love Is Overrated is a gorgeous ballad which hooks the listener into slowing down and bathing in the lyrics and tune (and a superb soprano saxophone solo from Porter regular Tivon Pennicott). At other end of the energy spectrum, Thank You is a stomping handwaving closer, gathering pace into a gospely all-in celebration.
Porter has taken care to surround himself with excellent musicians for this album, with musical director Troy Miller playing a best-supporting role as arranger, producer, sometime drummer, pianist and even occasional marimba. Recorded in Paris and Los Angeles, the line-ups vary on each track (buy the physical CD for the full cast), but drummer Emmanuel Harrold and bassist Jahmal Nichols are never far from the action along with the twin keyboard Hammond/piano set-up of Ondrej Pivec and Chip Crawford (an instrument pairing long exploited for depth and variety by Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band). A chunky British horn section led by Chris Storr on trumpet, Trevor Mires trombone, Jim Hunt and Andrew Ross on saxophones makes its presence felt, notably on Long List Of Troubles and Concorde. The London Symphony Strings bring lush texture on songs like Modern Day Apprentice and the catchy Merchants of Paradise.
I would suggest that you’re going to hear a lot of this album whether you buy it or not – it will be getting deserved radio play over the coming months. The thing is that the menu is so rich and varied that it’s really worth delving into in depth at your own pace and pleasure. The tone is inspiring, the spirit is liquid, the musicianship outstanding and the voice is… well, The Voice. All rise!