From the moment he walked on stage until after the encore, two-time Grammy award-winning American singer-songwriter Gregory Porter, captured the attention of the sold-out crowd at his February 23 concert at the Maison Symphonique de Montréal during the Montreal En Lumière festival. Backed by a 5 piece band, Porter’s baritone voice powerfully filled the room for almost two hours. It was easy to turn off the outside world with all its troubles and fall under Porter’s captivating spell into his soulful world of song.
Performing a selection of songs from all five of his albums, Porter opened with the ballad “Holding On”, with the first note immediately demonstrating his rich, deep voice. This opening song, about the courage and strength that love offers us, set the scene for the repertoire of the evening.
With his powerful, yet warm voice he delivered “Take me to the Alley”, a song about a leader wanting to visit the afflicted, lonely, lost souls - and to care for them - rather than be enthralled with gilded houses and shiny sidewalks. We can’t help but agree, isn’t that how we want leaders to be? His voice is authentic, with pure and clear tone, portraying an honest beauty as he holds on to notes.
Porter owned the stage, comfortable as he stood in front of the microphone to deliver his message. By not holding the microphone, his hands and arms are free to express more feeling to his performance. He kept the in-between song banter to a minimum, except when setting up “Liquid Spirit”; then he spoke of liking Montreal, its mild-mannered people, with a good vibe and good spirit. He then proceeded to bring the good vibe home to the audience, getting us to clap-along, energizing us, and including us in his gospel of song.
While Ondrej Pivec shone on the organ on “Don’t Lose Your Steam” - an uplifting, up-tempo song of hope (“young man I’m counting on you”), and quite timely call to action - Jamal Nichols delighted us with his introductory bass solo on “Papa Was A Rolling Store” (even quoting the “Smoke on the Water” riff).
“Nature Boy” was the only song Porter sang from his latest album, Nat “King” Cole & Me. With such a large repertoire of his own songs to choose from, no one could be disappointed with not having more of the Nat King Cole album. It was much more interesting to hear Porter’s songs, including the song he chose to close with, the poignant protest song “1960 What?” complete with response shouts from the band.
Porter knows who he is and knows his voice. He is charismatic and confident. He masters rhythm and phrasing, with perfect pitch and control. There is limited scat, and when there is, it is artfully embraced with the sax playing of Tivon Pennicott. Having sung for almost 2 hours, every moment, every song, every note was exquisite, as was the music and synergy from the band, all perfectly balanced for the crystal-clear acoustics of the room.
Porter’s music is of truth, hope and love, and his storytelling is engaging. While many, if not most, jazz vocalist cover standards, or revamp pop songs to the jazz style, Porter wrote most the songs he performed last night. These songs are personal, heartfelt stories; the lyrics are delivered with compassion. He sings from his soul, from his history. Sharing his message and his truth, in a gospel-like way, he sings, we listen, we clap, we hear, we hope.
In the end, Porter came back on stage for an encore. One last song to sing, one last message, one last story to share: “When Love Was King”, his spiritual lesson for us. As he left the stage, the audience rose again with a standing ovation, the room full of love for Gregory Porter.
- Holding On (Take Me To The Alley, 2016)
- On My Way to Harlem (Be Good, 2012)
- Take Me to The Alley (Take Me To The Alley, 2016)
- Don’t Lose Your Steam (Take Me To The Alley, 2016)
- Hey Laura (Liquid Spirit, 2013)
- Liquid Spirit/Wade in the Water (Liquid Spirit, 2013)
- Don’t Be A Fool (Take Me To The Alley, 2016)
- Bass Solo/Smoke on the Water/Papa Was A Rolling Stone (Live in Berlin, 2016)
- Musical Genocide (Liquid Spirit, 2013)
- Nature Boy (Nat “King” Cole & Me, 2017)
- 1960 What? (Water, 2010)
- Encore: When Love Was King (Take Me To The Alley, 2016)
- Gregory Porter (Voice)
- Chip Crawford (Piano)
- Jamal Nichols (Double Bass)
- Ondrej Pivec (Organ)
- Tivon Pennicott (Tenor saxophone)
- Emanuel Harrold (Drums)