Album Review: Gregory Porter - Take Me to the Alley

4/5

Gregory Porter has come a long way since he worked as a chef in his brother’s Brooklyn restaurant, just over a decade ago. His arrival among the not-so-swelled ranks of genuinely popular jazz singers was sealed in 2014, when his album Liquid Spirit, on Blue Note, won a Grammy.

It sold 100,000 copies in the UK alone, such transatlantic popularity explaining his double dates at the Olympia next week. May sees the release of Porter’s latest album Take Me to the Alley.

Its opening track, ‘Holding On’, begins with an insistent piano hook and whispering brushed drums and has Porter sing about one of his familiar lover’s dilemmas, his warm blanket of a voice rich and deep and flowing. It’s a mainstream love-song style that he returns to in tracks like ‘Consequence of Love’ and ‘More Than a Woman’.

It’s utterly unfashionable, but that’s part of Porter’s integrity.

‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’ is something different. It opens with a punchy delivery, before sassy brass and funky organ take over. It’s gently political, as any song by a black American is if it contains the line “Young man, I’m counting on you”.

The title track swims into the ears, drifting in on a quiet few bars and Porter at his most sentimental sounding. It’s an unabashedly religious song about Christ’s compassion and charity, channeling the great gospel tradition, as Porter, a preacher’s son, well might.

Jazz fans will be best pleased by tracks like ‘French African Queen’ and ‘Fan the Flames’. The latter kicks off like something by Blue- Train era John Coltrane, and contains the album’s most interesting solos and Porter at his most assertive, spitting out lines with a neat political twist.

‘Take Me to the Alley’ is a substantial and wide-ranging work. Any of the strands could be mined more deeply by the singer, and this would probably please niche audiences. But Porter seems to have no problem pleasing a vast general audience.



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