May
14
2017

Gregory Porter

Enmore Theatre, April 12

8/10

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Gregory Porter. Photo supplied.

Six months ago he was at the Basement. Now he was filling the Enmore Theatre. While a handful of other artists have enjoyed this meteoric rise in their 40s, jazz singers who have achieved such popularity when concentrating almost entirely on original material are super rare.

Although Gregory Porter’s vast, push-you-back-in-your-seat voice is the primary lure for this tide of fans, a more intriguing aspect of his success is that he is a better songwriter than most of his predecessors, and probably than any of his contemporaries. Each song is made highly distinctive, built around lyrics that draw you in and sometimes slice you to the bone. His cause is further aided by a strong soul element rubbing shoulders with his jazzy sensibilities, thereby making his songs more accessible. Where some of these can sound dangerously close to MOR tameness on record, in concert Porter the jazz singer lifts them well beyond any danger of mundanity.

That soul dimension is partially what imbues his voice with such warmth and magnanimity, and what alchemises several of his songs into having an anthemic quality. The best example was the haunting compassion of Take Me to the Alley, with its halo of Christ-related religiosity hovering over deftly swathed ambiguities that will sustain more than one interpretation, thereby not alienating those who might find the Christ connotations creepy.

Porter’s other strength is his instinct for understatement. As on his previous tours (and albums) seldom did he unleash the full glory of his bronze voice, valuing truth and humility over grandstanding. His band attacked the material from the same standpoint, with mostly restrained solos and accompaniment from tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, pianist Chip Crawford and bassist Jahmal Nichols. The exception was Emanuel Harrold’s drumming, which could magnificently evoke mood and drama, and could also sometimes be superfluously busy.

While Porter has certainly stepped up from clubs to theatres successfully in terms of crowd response, this concert lacked the phenomenal intensity in the air at the Basement last September.