We’ve had something of a journey, me and Gregory, not that he’s any the wiser to it of course. I mused over it as his rich baritone poured over me in Sheffield City Hall, pinned by the very force of it to my seat. This is not the jazz-lite singer I had assumed on first sight, as I noted the cool look, you know with the hat thing going on, probably late at night as I fell asleep over Parkinson.
As he took the stage at a packed and excited City Hall, he still has the hat thing going on, along with the natty suit. Joining him were his crack team of musicians – drums, organ, piano, bass, trumpet and sax is this tours set up, and they all get the chance to shine within the set, all proving themselves worthy adversaries of ‘that’ voice.
If not jazz-lite (you know the sort of thing, right – turgid, over produced slop they play in cheap hotels to try and give it a sense of quality and style) then standard smooth jazz fare, I had concluded. And there’s some of that on show tonight – Liquid Spirit and torch song Hey Laura (about an ex-girlfriend from Scotland, he tells us) swing, smooch and generally thrill the crowd, with the solos – drums in the former and sax in the latter (amongst others) giving them some real bite and groove.
Closer inspection of his records had revealed I was wrong on both accounts, but being there in the company of the man – humble, funny and surprisingly down to earth between the songs, showed I needed to listen even more to Gregory Porter. For over the course of a couple of hours, Gregory Porter not only swings, but has the crowd in the palm of his hand with Ballads (a stunning version of Mona Lisa from his recent Nat King Cole tribute record), is soulful (Don’t Lose Your Steam) Scats through On my Way to Harlem, brings the funk and jazz to Musical Genocide, and allows his band to trip out on a huge elongated version of Free.
Although he’s the star, his band brings it to the audience, showing incredible virtuosity throughout, not least in the encore, resplendent as it is with extended (like, ten minutes extended) drum solo to begin with, but it’s that voice, a thing that causes moments that leave you breathless and open mouthed, that you walk away remembering. And it didn’t and doesn’t take much re-assessment or thought to bring the journey to where we are now. And that is Gregory Porter is one of the greatest singers of his generation, jazz or otherwise. And as such, you should catch him live wherever and whenever you can.
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Pictures: Stan Hargrave www.facebook.com/shotbystAn