Reviews & Opinions
Review: Jet-Setting With the Gregory Porter Quartet
Gary Finney Loves the Albright-Knox
Song Styles To Please
Just forty-eight hours prior, the Gregory Porter quartet had performed in Vienna, Austria. Despite this, they exhibited no signs of jet lag and hit the stage of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery ready to play.
The set opened with the title track to Porter’s debut recording ‘Water,’ where his voice was gliding over the rubato rhythms of drummer Andrew Atkinson and notes pouring from the piano like sheets of cascading rain. After the tune settled into its confident gait, Chip Crawford let loose a passionate piano solo, where his jagged lines equaled the anguished contortions of his face, as he seemed to bet the farm on this first solo excursion.
‘God Bless The Child’ was next up and was executed at a much brisker tempo than is customary. Porter has ample R&B influence in his style and his rich baritone voice here revealed his obvious Donny Hathaway influence. His slightly arrhythmic phrasing, coupled with the tempo, made this sometimes over-done chestnut a pleasant homage.
Homage to Wayne
Wayne Shorter’s composition ‘Black Nile’ is also from Porter’s first CD and adds to the legitimacy that younger players view Wayne as one of jazz’s premier composers. To say that the tempo taken at this performance was blistering would be an understatement. With Atkinson’s drumsticks a blur and cymbals sizzling, Porter engaged the band with his own scatting solo that was akin to a pelting hailstorm. The entire band was churning hard, with Aaron James’ bass as steady and powerful as a steam locomotive. A short, compelling drum solo elicited whoops of delight from the audience.
The title track of his soon-to-be-released CD, ‘Be Good’, was next on the set list. For this listener’s ears, it’s always enjoyable to hear something fresh at a live performance and this was just the first of the afternoon. Written in waltz time, it featured several stop-time breaks, which added immeasurable to the dynamism of the piece. In stark contrast to the previous selection, Atkinson’s playing featured brushes swishing like a road sweeper.
Follow The Voice
The inflection in Porter’s voice revealed a deeply felt pride-of-place when he launched into the tune ‘On My Way To Harlem’ which was also a new piece. The lyrics, which reveled in the history of this uptown Manhattan community, appropriately contain a reference to Langston Hughes and Marvin Gaye. And the depth and sweetness of Porter’s voice verified his respectful love of Harlem, which is experiencing another renaissance, while proclaiming that he was baptized by a jazzman’s horn. Crawford’s piano solo was another highly animated affair where his playing indicated that he may never solo again and so this one had to say it all. I can’t recall, in recent memory, hearing such a passionate player! At the song’s end, the refrain was repeated over and over, reminding us just which subway train will take us to Harlem.
‘Skylark’ took us back to the great American songbook before the band dove into Nat Adderley’s classic ‘Work Song’ which is also on the new record. Porter’s mother is a minister and here his gospel roots were on full display, mashing nicely with a bluesy, field holler style that had everyone swaying in their seats. The final number imparted some social consciousness of a time filled with strife; it was the tune ‘1960 What’ which tells of the Detroit riots and the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King. James laid down a pulsating, ostinato bass line around which the band built a groove-centric swell that rose in intensity like a barn ablaze. What a set ender!
In the Presence of a Gentleman
A respectful man, Porter shook hands with each band member at the conclusion and thanked the audience as well. Not being dismissed just yet, the crowd called them back for an encore. Prior to the performance, a film was shown of a 1961 Nat Cole performance. Bringing the afternoon full circle, Porter and band played ‘Mona Lisa.’ A wildly popular hit for Cole in 1950, Porter’s voice was nearly as rounded and silky as Cole’s as he ended this performance with grace and humility. Live jazz, there’s nothing like it!
A Beautiful Performance of Black Nile
Editor Note: Gary brought us photos but no video. Assuming you weren't sitting with Gary, you may at least enjoy this 2010 rendition of "Black Nile" live at the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in New York City.
By Gary Finney
March 27, 2012