Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 15, No.5, 2016

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Becky Noble
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
Vincent Rehel
Kat Edmonson
Jaga Jazzist
Cline & Lage
Fred Hersch
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)

Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: GREGORY PORTER


take me to the alley -- take me to the afflicted ones

It all begins with Gregory Porter’s immaculate voice, a rich and resonant vibrato that proclaims our better angels and men with their feet on the ground are one and the same. Both the music and message cleave to present time and the transcendental. If I were looking for the perfect OM sound – pure tone without content -- with which to tantalize the meditation novice, I would pluck and preserve from the world’s cacophony the inimitable vive voce of Gregory Porter – that’s how affecting and gratifying is this gift from the Gods.

How good is the voice above and below the sweet spot? How lush and extended is it? The long and short answer is that Porter’s voice is all broadband; there is no above and below – which provides him with exceptional latitude in the solitary activity of composing. Most of the tracks are refined ballads that incorporate the vocabulary we associate with the American Songbook and straight-ahead jazz. But no matter how dynamic and grandiose, the voice is always in service of the song's architecture and arresting verticalities that reverberate like superbly laid depth charges rippling and reconfiguring both tempo and tone that in turn breathe life and form into those madly inspired beginnings from which the final product takes its shape. Of note and lasting appeal is that when Porter sings, he appeals to soul and gospel, but when his talented musicians take over and the soloing begins, the listener is abruptly shunted into the realm of pure jazz.

A study in contrast when set against the unhurried and deeply felt melodies that speak to the existential problems that afflict America, the solos delivered by Tivon Pennicott on tenor sax leave no doubt that Porter’s music is all about jazz. Pennicott, in calculated daring against the measured voice, comes on like a tempest, finding a home midway between studied dissonance and the avant garde that makes no pretense of the influence of John Coltrane. Porter graciously allows the tenor man to step out of his commanding presence, and, as the mood strikes, flirt with free-form and expressionism. Taking liberties with Mao (women hold up half the sky), the soloists (also Chip Crawford on the keys) hold up half the sound in the Porter enterprise. Most of the tracks from Take Me To The Alley offer tantalizing time-lapse synopses of the evolution of jazz from its melodic beginnings and subsequent fusions with other music, to the more frenetic present trying to make sense of the goings-on on the good planet earth as it turns. One doesn’t simply discover Gregory Porter, but a world whose concerns and consolations can only be grasped with repeated listening.

When it comes to the never-ending challenge of creating credible inroads into the esoteric world of jazz, Porter’s unusual pairing of soul and straight-no-chaser jazz is surely as good as it gets when it comes to preparing the listener to challenge his defaults. At the conclusion of his 2016 Montreal International Jazz Festival triumph, the balaclava clad Porter left no doubt that he is a major talent, and fully deserving of the recognition (Downbeat Jazz Artist and Male Vocalist of the year) that has belatedly arrived.

Porter’s repertoire and unusual mix of soundscapes satisfy on many levels, all of which reveal where his loyalties lie. He counts among those rare singers who, intentionally or otherwise, tower above and project beyond the music. His basement-deep operatic voice is much more than a means to communicate the ideas and causes he supports. As an irresistible timbre the ear turns to like charged particles to a magnet, and regardless of any song’s tempo, Porter’s persona is such that he presences like a anchor, a reassuring calm in the midst of vast betrayal and hurting. His voice is a bridge the listener wants to cross, to meet not so much the singer (half-prophet, half-healer) but himself on a higher plane, and the alternative world the music and choices Porter majestically and eloquently articulates in especially his most recent album, Take Me to the Alley.

Gregory Porter is already so accomplished it’s difficult to imagine what is to come next? More of the remarkable same, or will he reconfigure the soul-jazz balance that has been wonderfully struck and delivered? Whatever it is, we know that it will reflect Porter’s very particular sensibility and his on-going relationship with our one-world twisting and turning on axis bold as love.

As the man grows, the music grows, and every listener’s playlist is his mirror and confession.




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