Gregory Porter Live at The Stables

Live at The Stables, Milton Keynes 21st March 2014

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

On Friday, 21 March 2014, the Gregory Porter Road show passed through The Stables, Milton Keynes as part of his extensive “Sold Out” publicly and critically acclaimed UK wide tour. Coming on the back of his Grammy Awards success for Best Jazz Album 2013, “Liquid Spirit,” with his previous two sumptuous Grammy nominated outings, “Water” in 2010 And “Be Good” in 2012 having paved the way for his cresting moment. So it was that lovers of Mr Porter’s sound, including Cleo Laine, the First Lady of UK Jazz and founder of The Stables, Milton Keynes, gathered expectantly in the small but perfectly formed venue.

Once all the punters were seated, the lights dimmed and the musicians Chip Crawford (piano), Aaron James (bass), Emanuel Harrold (drums) and Yosuke Sato (alto sax) took their respective places on stage and proceeded to play the familiar introductory refrains of “Painted on Canvas” from the aforementioned “Be Good” offering. A minute or so into the tune with the notes swirling sweetly around the confines of the theatre, the tall, elegantly attired and distinctive figure of Gregory Porter, trademark Jazz Hat and all strode into the arena from a separate entrance adjacent to the stage. His appearance sparked impromptu whooping, hollering, cheering and applause from his visibly excited audience.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Once on the stage, Mr Porter acknowledged his followers with an appreciative head nod, before effortlessly adding his dark chocolate vocals to the flowing tune playing underneath him. At the close of this opening tune our ringmaster for the evening addressed the crowd. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! It’s good to be here. I’ve been jumping around the UK and enjoying all of the Sticky Toffee Pudding!” This caused ripples of laughter throughout the audience. He continued “I have this thing about UK food descriptions; they’re all a little bit grotesque in their names… Anyway I’m thankful to here.”
Gregory then took time out to introduce his supremely talented band of musicians, beginning with the renowned pianist Chip Crawford on piano, Aaron James on wood-bass, Emanuel Harrold on drums and Yasuto Sato on alto saxophone; each receiving very hearty appreciation. “We’re going to do some music from the album’s “Water,” “Be Good” and the new album “Liquid Spirit” informed the protagonist, before continuing, “Right now I’m going to make you work; I want you to clap with me on two and four. We’re going to help you work off some of that Sticky Toffee Pudding – Liquid Spirit!”

And with that the band launched into the title track of his recently Grammy Award winning album, the audience willingly clapping along on the two and four as requested. Almost from the onset of the up-tempo rhythm, Chip Crawford exhibited why he is one of the world’s premier pianists, playing a superbly animated and extended solo, oftentimes hunched over the keys for maximum effect. Mr Porter simply took a few steps back, supped on a bottle of water and looked on admirably, as did we all. When GP did rejoin the goodtime jam, he performed a Jazz-scat like no other, and subsequently initiated an old school Soul clap, which gradually circulated around the auditorium like the Mexican wave.

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Chip Crawford – piano
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

With the audience, the band and his vocal chords suitably warmed up, Gregory Porter jokingly insinuated that his pianist Chip Crawford has enjoyed “spreading the love” during their UK tour thus far, going on to say “With that in mind we’re going to continue on with a song from the new album, and it’s another opportunity for you all to join in here. At the very end of the song, sing with me – you’ll know what to do. It’s a tune called “No Love Dying.” The deep wholesome notes of Aaron James’s wood bass, Chip Crawford’s delicate tinkling of the ebony and ivory and Emanuel Harrold’s sensitive brushstrokes on the drums gently ushered in the tune prior to Gregory Porter’s honey coated vocals initiated the lyrics. Halfway into this beautifully even paced song, we were introduced to the first of many superlative alto saxophone solos by Mr Yosuke Sato; bending, weaving and manipulating notes one never knew existed. Mesmerising!

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Yosuke Sato – alto sax
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

“We continue on with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln composition entitled “Lonesome Lover.” The instant Mr Porter finished his introduction, drummer Emanuel Harrold and bass player Aaron James exploded into an intense trade-off with one another, complemented thirty seconds later by Chip Crawford on piano. Both Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln would be proud of the reinvention of this tune, especially in the live arena with Porters vocals sawing freely towards the end. A mellow timeout was taken in the form of “Wolf Cry” segueing subtly into the call and response chants of Porters homage to his slave ancestry, “Work Song” enveloped the air.

Two thirds of the way through the tune and Emanuel Harrold was given the freedom to express himself fully with a monstrously expressive solo that the legendary drummer Art Blakey would doff his hat to if he were here. Once the Jazz man in the Jazz Hat had finished nodding his head and slapping his leg appreciatively, he approached the microphone stand and offloaded eight bars of “The In Crowd” in unison with Chip Crawford’s piano interjections, then seamlessly reverted back to “Work Song” for a spine tingling vocal crescendo to reinforce the impact of this well received Jazzy mash-up.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Once the minute long applause had died down, the Harlem-based singer told us that he had spoken with his brother earlier. His brother implying that flying all over the world is not actually work compared to the job that he has making lattes; to which Gregory had simply retorted, “Yeah!” before introducing the next tune – “We gonna continue on with the title track from the last record, this one is called “Be Good”. Uttering these two simple words caused delirious shrieks among the audience. Aaron James’ pronounced plucking of his upright bass affected a deep toned resonance reminiscent of an intro to a Nina Simone tune of yesteryear. Emanuel Harrold’s smooth brushing of the skins paired with Chip Crawford’s slow and deliberate piano playing created a light-hearted fairytale like ambience which was the perfect backdrop for Porter to step forward and effortlessly tell the nursery rhyme style story of “Be Good”.

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Aaron James – wood bass
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

It is a tune which has future Jazz standard written all over it. Yosuke Sato delivered a solo of the highest order on saxophone, followed by the equally adept Aaron James on bass who continued the story more than adequately, before Porter himself humming gently fifteen feet away from the microphone stand proceeded to bring the song to its conclusion strolling steadily to centre stage whilst projecting his voice à la Luther Vandross.

After some more audience chit-chat the band then showcased three more tracks from the “Liquid Spirit” CD. “Hey Laura,” “Movin’” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” only served to prove why you need to see this great man live. As good as these tracks may be on record, seeing and hearing them live in 3-D living colour was a whole new experience. “Hey Laura” was delivered with a real sense of sincerity, “Movin’” was given an infectious drum and bass/staccato-style under beat, which forced one to involuntary tap one’s feet in sync; ” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily” though initially starting out at a leisurely pace built up to a dizzying concliusion with that man Yosuke Sato being let off the leash to fully express himself with some extraordinary circular breathing.

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Emanuel Harrold – drums
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Neither the audience nor the sax man had barely caught their breath when the now familiar strains of Porters breakthrough hit “1960 What?” wafted from the stage to the back of the auditorium. With many of the audience now standing up and clapping in time Gregory Porter proceeded to tell the story of the decade which spawned the civil rights movement and the events that happened there in.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

As the song neared its end, Porter took the time to name check his supporting cast once again before acknowledging all corners of the The Stables arena and taking his leave from the stage to a rousing and well-deserved standing ovation. And they kept on standing, clapping and hollering long after the band left the stage. Their persistence was rewarded as the musicians closely followed by Porter assumed their positions on stage once again. Literally two or three bars into their encore tune and cries rang out from various members of the audience of “Harlem!” and “On My Way To Harlem!” Realising the overwhelming passion for that particular song, Porter abruptly stopped the scheduled song, half turned towards his band and said audibly “I told you they’re gonna wanna to hear that tune!”

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Addressing the microphone Gregory granted the The Stables, MK massive their wish, saying, “You want Harlem?” “Harlem it is!” The crowd erupted into cheers of gratitude, rising to their feet clapping ecstatically with some of the audience taking to the Isles and getting on the good foot, as the funky vibes of “On My Way to Harlem” took a hold. The band went all-out, from Porters exceptionally emotive vocals to yet another Sato sensational sax solo backed up by Aaron James on bass, each receiving deserved extra applause for their contribution. The metronomic timekeeping of drummer Emanuel Harrold was not lost on this knowledgeable audience either.

Once again with the simple words “Peace and Love” and further musician name props, Gregory Porter and his band departed The Stables platform for the second time only for the incessant chanting to entice them back like a moth to a light to face their adoring public and round out a most enthralling evening of Soulful Jazz or Jazz with Soul with the ever popular “Real Good Hands” lifted as was the preceding track “On My Way To Harlem” from his 2012 set “Be Good.”

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

There’s no doubt that after a performance of such magnitude, even the on-looking First Lady of UK Jazz Cleo Laine could not fail to have been highly impressed. I wholeheartedly suggest that if Mr Porter and his band of extremely Jazzy Merry men are performing within a twenty to thirty mile radius of your home; that you make it your business to attend.

Michael J Edwards

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The Gregory Porter Band:
Gregory Porter – vocals and scat
Chip Crawford – piano
Aaron James – bass
Emanuel Harrold – drums
Yohsuke Satoh – saxophone

Essential Tour Dates: http://www.gregoryporter.com/tours/

Essential Albums:
Water (Motéma 2011)
Be Good (Motéma 2012)
Liquid Spirit (Blue Note 2013)

Essential Website:
http://www.gregoryporter.com/

travelling the spaceways since 1993