We nearly didn’t see Gregory Porter. I’d booked our tickets in July last year and, as the April date grew imminent, I realised I’d noted the date incorrectly. I’m so glad we didn’t miss out. It was a privilege and a joy to experience an evening of beautiful jazz delivered by the soul man.
Nashville-based singer/songwriter, Kandace Springs, opened the concert. Showcasing songs from her new album, Soul Eyes, she also shared a beautiful cover of Roberta Flack’s The first time ever I saw your face.
Porter’s band took the stage to an enthusiastic welcome. Pianist, double bass player, saxophonist, trumpeter, Hammond organist and drummer welcomed the nattily dressed, hat-wearing gentle giant to the stage with beautiful music.
Gregory Porter opened with Holding On from his upcoming new album, Take Me To The Alley. When the audience responded with appreciative applause and whistles, he introduced his band. Throughout the evening, he shared the stage generously with his band. He stepped out of the spotlight at every instrumental solo, and never failed to show appreciation for his band. And so he should – they were a superb match for his liquid velvet voice.
On My Way to Harlem was his second number. Porter clicks his fingers through every song, feeling every beat, every nuance, every note. After some gentle scatting, he brought the number to a close, before moving on to the beautiful Illusion.
“There’s a lot of trouble in the land,” he reflected, before introducing his next number.
“At the end, feel free to join in with me. But not until the end. I love you, but I don’t want to hear you,” he said.
The son of a preacher mother took us to church and brought us back into the room with No Love Dying. We joined in at his command – at the end – and he seemed pleased with our performance.
“There’s a good vibe in here tonight.”
He encouraged us to clap to the rhythm of our hearts in Liquid Spirit. Porter moved across the stage, taking his mic stand with him. The song featured an insane piano solo, and an equally insane drum solo.
The lyrically and melodically exquisite Hey Laura followed, before another clearly personal track from his new album, Don’t Lose Your Steam.
Boy, you hear me calling your name
The bridge is your time
Your engine rolls hot
If the bridges fall down, don’t lose your head of steam.
“I wrote that for my three-year-old son to help him eat his cereal. Just carry on doing what you’re doing, and you’ll be all right. But especially for my three-year-old.”
As Porter sat down next to the piano, the rest of his band left the stage.
“This next one is called … whatever I feel like,” he said.
He chose the very poignant and beautiful Don’t Be a Fool, which he and his pianist presented with intimacy and tenderness.
His band returned to the stage, and his very smiley double-bass player opened the next number: a rousing and soulful cover of Motown’s 70s hit – Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.
Musical Genocide, again with an extraordinary piano solo, and The Consequence of Love followed. Porter, tall and with a towering presence, never hogs the limelight. He appears to revel in the talent of every band member; he feels and appreciates every note.
After another cover – Nat Adderley’s 1960 Work Song, made famous by Nina Simone – followed the moving story of Be Good. This brought with it an outstanding and beautiful sax solo – delicate, sultry, sublime.
An astonishing trumpet solo in 1960 What? – the song inspired by Porter’s own stories of life in Detroit, as well as Martin Luther King’s assassination – brought the concert to a close and the audience, screaming and whooping to its feet. Porter again acknowledged his band, said “God bless you,” to the audience, and walked off the stage.
He came back with the energetic Be Free. He sang his gratitude to the audience and hoped we’d felt the love. He bowed, waved to us and walked off the stage, leaving his band playing. Starting with the pianist, each band member took it in turn to play solo before walking off the stage. The double-bass player – now on an electric bass guitar – and the drummer challenged each other to a musical duel, before the guitarist left the stage with guitar flung over his shoulder.
The drummer held the stage for a further five minutes. He teased us by pretending several times to stop playing, and then continuing his awesomeness. When he eventually stopped, put down his sticks and sauntered off the stage, the audience went crazy.
Give me a blues song, tell the world what’s wrong
And the gospel singer, giving those messages of love
Woah, and the soul man, with your heart in the palm of his hand
Singing his stories of love and pain, woah.
Thank you, Mr Soul Man, for holding us all in the palm of your hand for the evening. What an outstanding band, an awesome concert. Woah!
Sunshine in London signing off for now.