The Grammy nominee proves he’s the real deal on a marvellous second LP.
Daniel Spicer 2012-02-15
Californian-born New Yorker Gregory Porter shot to fame with his debut album, Water, in 2010, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal in the process. This follow-up comes with high expectations, but fans of authentically soulful vocals and luxuriant horn-heavy arrangements need not worry, Porter has, in a word, nailed it.
Porter’s voice is a marvel: a warm, assured tenor with precise, impeccable intonation, completely at home in classy originals that – like all good jazz – seem to bathe in timeless familiarity. On Painted on Canvas, Porter’s delivery is imbued with some of Donny Hathaway’s earnest wistfulness, while the title-track feels so much like a standard from the Great American Songbook that it’s a cinch to imagine it cropping up in a Sammy Davis Jr TV special between The Candy Man and Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head – and it comes as no surprise to learn that Porter is a veteran of musical theatre.
Yet, despite these stylings, Porter clearly sees his work as part of a jazz lineage – as driven home in the breezily up-tempo optimism of On My Way to Harlem with its Duke Ellington name-check and Porter’s claim of “I was baptized by a jazzman’s horn”. It’s a sentiment that benefits from the genuine jazz chops laid down by an acoustic band built around pianist Chip Crawford – who isn’t afraid to take his solos out beyond obvious melodic territory – and saxophonist/arranger Kamau Kenyatta, whose solos are a little more honeyed.
There’s a sense of sumptuous comfort about much of the album – and not just in the arrangements. Porter’s lyrics, too, seem to come from a place of great emotional strength: Real Good Hands is a respectful marriage proposal (complete with cornball 70s-style spoken introduction) and Mother’s Song is a gospelised paean to family values. In fact, towards the middle of this (quite long) album it’s all so wholesome and smooth that it’s a little like lingering too long in a hot bath and nodding off into steamy, contented slumber.
But all is made good by a couple of closing stormers: Bling Bling, a high-energy jazz gallop in which Porter unleashes an all-too-brief burst of raucous scat; and a belting version of Nat Adderley’s Work Song that raises exuberant goose-bumps. Yeah, Gregory Porter is the real deal.