An evening full of blue notes

Grammy winner Gregory Porter was less brooding, but as resonant as ever in his second outing in Singapore last Friday.
Grammy winner Gregory Porter was less brooding, but as resonant as ever in his second outing in Singapore last Friday.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SINGJAZZ/FULL CIRCLE PR

REVIEW / CONCERT

GREGORY PORTER

Capitol Theatre/Last Friday

Gregory Porter was born to sing and he uses his gift to help those in need.

In June, for example, the two-time Grammy winner sang on the charity single Artists For Grenfell, in aid of the victims of that towering London inferno in June.

That same month, he released the song Running with fellow American, the Oscar-winning Common, in aid of refugees.

His second outing in Singapore last Friday was the first solo showcase of an artist put on by the Singapore International Jazz Festival (SingJazz), which turns five next year.

This bear of a man belts out blue notes loud and strong, a sort of beefier Marvin Gaye and almost as intuitive as the late great soul singer. Porter is also as sanguine as the late Nat King Cole, whose songs Porter will pay tribute to in his new album to be released at the end of the month.

In his 90-minute, nine-song set last Friday, his burnt-toast boom was as resonant as ever, but his interpretations were far lighter and less brooding than on his albums and, indeed, at his inaugural gig at SingJazz in 2014. His lighter touch was especially notable on Hey Laura, which turned the hit ballad into a soundtrack to a homecoming rather than a prelude to nooky.

After the opening acts of Indonesia's inconsistent Dira Sugandi and Singapore's valiant, if nervous, Nick Zavior, Porter launched right into Holding On, from his most recent album Take Me To The Alley (2016).

The bonus was alto saxophonist Yosuke Sato, who parted ways with Porter in 2015, but still plays with him off and on. Sato's sizzling squiggles of sound were, however, less precise than his super-tight parps at their SingJazz outing in 2014.

They soon eased into the evening with On My Way To Harlem, from Porter's 2012 album Be Good. His rousing scats built to incantations and when he referenced Gaye's plaintive What's Going On, the crowd whooped wildly.

He took the tempo down with Take Me To The Alley, whose insistent bassline called to mind a mass of solemn people parading proudly through a desert. Sato took up his flute, producing poignant flutters as Porter sang about saving, not taking, lives in the inner city's darkest corners.

The crooner, who performs with a cap and balaclava to hide facial scars, went into wistful bellows with Don't Lose Your Steam, exhorting his young son not to "lose your head of dreams", showcasing his deceptively simple style of letting melody reign rich and pure.

While his bandmates seemed content to shade and burnish his cadences, Porter proved a generous musician and, perhaps too often this evening, seemed all too willing to cede the stage to his bandmates who, besides Sato, were pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Jahmal Nichols, tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott and the multiple Grammy-winning master drummer Emanuel Harrold.

Things turned meditative with Porter's take on the negro spiritual Wade In The Water, in which he sang of love, music, peace and freedom to a smackdown beat reminiscent of the opening bars of Elton John's Bennie And The Jets.

The band then brought the tempo up again with juddering, funky jags. As the audience clapped and bobbed about, Porter yelled: "There's some good rhythm in the house."

Next up was his defiant number Musical Genocide, which began, "I do not agree, this is not for me… I will not commit, nor will I submit/To, musical genocide". That was the cue for Sato and Pennicott to unleash a hot jam, duelling with their saxes as Nichols did scorching fingerwork on his double bass. Porter ended it off with a few lines from Nat King Cole's Nature Boy, as a foretaste of his upcoming album.

"Thank you for letting me be myself," he howled towards the end, after a shout-out to hitmeister David Foster of the reality TV show Asia's Got Talent, who was in the house.

To roars for more from the crowd, he obliged with a bob-ba-ba-loo-ba turn, as the hall erupted in applause.

If Porter's "eating tour" of Singapore last week is anything to go by, he will hopefully be back here before long.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline 'An evening full of blue notes'. Print Edition | Subscribe