Gregory Porter ‘Take Me to the Alley’ CD/LP (Decca) 4/5

gregory-porterSinger extraordinaire Gregory Porter has managed that most elusive of ambitions: on the one hand pleasing the critics with his combination of jazz and soulful grooves, while at the same time attracting a wider audience. The latter objective has resulted in his previous album, ‘Liquid Spirit’, achieving sales of over a million copies, which is no mean feat in a time where the recording industry is still in post-recession mood. The new album continues very much in the same vein with a growing maturity in the song writing stakes
Influenced by 1970s soul singer Donny Hathaway, but also by his mother’s record collection that included jazz and gospel greats, Gregory Porter excels on reflective numbers such as the title track which is the kind of song that Terry Callier might have composed in his prime, and here the delicious duet with singer Alicia Olatuja hints at the gospel influences he heard growing up. In a down tempo vein ‘Insanity’ is one of the strongest compositions with gorgeous piano accompaniment from regular keyboardist and arranger Chip Crawford and sensitive drumming from Emanuel Harrold. However, his jazz credentials are still fully intact and showcased marvellously on uptempo numbers of the calibre of ‘Fan the flames’ and the first single, ‘Don’t lose your steam’. This writer especially liked the underlying reggae vibe on piano, the kind of groove that Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander might have conjured up. Throughout the musicianship is excellent with fine soloing from alto saxophonist Yosuke Sato and tenorist Tivon Pennicott, who collectively add some thrilling unison horn lines. Soul fans will warm to the mid-tempo shuffle of ‘Day dream’ where the underlying rhythm recalls the song, ‘I wish I knew how it feels to be free’, from Nina Simone and one that Donny Hathaway covered so well. The opening song, ‘Holding on’ has a definite anthemic quality to it with a muted harmon trumpet solo straight out of the Miles Davis bag from trumpeter Keyon Harold.

In general, there is a timeless quality to the song writing that augurs well for the rest of Gregory Porter’s career, and judging by this latest offering, he is well and truly in an inspirational phase. A lengthy recent UK tour throughout April confirmed his fan base on this side of the Atlantic.

Tim Stenhouse