Monday, 13 February 2012

Review: Gregory Porter at Pizza Express Jazz Club

What’s the Fuss?  Singer Songwriter Melissa James tells us why she’s stirred by the arrival of jazz singer, Gregory Porter.

It's not often that I feel compelled to put the proverbial pen to paper to write about a new jazz singer that thrills me. But it is not that often that I feel quite as inspired as I am by a new jazz artist.  There are many accomplished vocalists within the jazz vein but the ones by whom I am most affected have either been around for many years or, more likely, have been dead for even longer.  The fact that I am sitting here writing this piece now – a task which frankly I liken to sticking pins in my eyes – is testament to just how moved I was after watching Gregory Porter’s show last Friday.  Performing live at London’s Pizza Express Dean Street Club, I wasn’t quite prepared for the after effects of his show in spite of the fact that I have long been aware about this emerging singer songwriter and just how gifted he appears to be.

Porter’s 2010 debut album, Water, introduced me to a man with much soul and a big, warm voice.  I knew from listening to this record that he was an interesting songwriter who brought integrity to his lyrics.  I had heard his a cappella rendition of Feeling Good which had left me speechless from the mere uttering of the first vocal phrase.  When I booked my ticket to catch his show in London I expected to be somewhat impressed and as a singer and songwriter myself I was intrigued to hear what was now to come from Porter in presenting his second album, Be Good.

A man with a soft gravelly texture to his voice, he opened the set with a funked-up version of God Bless the Child and from the get-go the audience was hooked.  Applause, applause came after every song with certain members of the audience even feeling reluctant to sit and show their appreciation after his musical offerings but instead standing to clap with genuine enthusiasm.  So I don't think it's just me that feels the air of something special encircling this towering gentleman which is very different from that surrounding other jazz artists of now.

Since watching him live on Friday I've been trying to pinpoint what it is exactly that makes him seem so appealing.  Is it that you simply cannot help but be drawn into his musical world because of the large dollops of soul that emit from his very being tempting strong comparisons to Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers?  Maybe it’s his writing which, in the beautiful waltz, Be Good, delights us with its dancing piano lines or which in Real Good Hands tells of his plea to his future in laws to worry not – he’ll take care of their daughter just fine (if only he’d relay this request to my mother!).   Or is that he comes to us as a jazz artist in the true sense of the word - he is an improviser.  He takes a jazz song and puts his stamp on it and not in some way that is unimpressively different but that is actually quite interesting.  That said, there is nothing particularly extraordinary about doing an a capella version of Feeling Good.  But somehow on hearing it I was immediately succumbing to this man's trance.  

And to those who might be jumping up and down in protest, baffled at why I haven't felt the same way about such and such a jazz artist, I'm not saying that there aren't other talented jazz creatives out there.  But by definition of the word "special", which I apply premeditatively in describing Mr Porter, it simply cannot be applied to all.  As an artist myself I'm a little peed off, frankly.  How dare this man come along with his sublime vocals and well-written songs and be so damned good?  Yet I see what I can learn from Porter and whether it can be even loosely emulated or whether it's a naturally given gift that he was lucky enough to be born with, I have no idea.

While it might seem that Porter presents himself as an overnight success, it is more likely true that behind the scenes he has been treading the board for many a year - as artists often do.  In spite of this, he is falling on fresh ears to a lot of listeners now as he presents a body of work that sets him worlds apart from others as a refreshing new artist who is perhaps shorter in the tooth than his talent might suggest.  And this, for me, is what makes him stand-out.

And to think: if this is what he's giving us now, what more is there to come from Porter in future years?  For Porter, this is the start to an immensely exciting new journey which leaves me hungry to see what other delights he may feed us along the way.  The prospect of further great stories, songs and interpretations to be conveyed through Gregory Porter is, for me, one that leaves me buzzing with anticipation indeed.

Gregory Porter’s new album, Be Good, is out now.

Follow Melissa on Twitter @MelissaJamesUK or hear her work online at 

~ Thanks to Melissa for a superb review. Looking forward to your next piece! 

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