Concert review: Gregory Porter (Singapore International Jazz Festival)

Review: Concert


Event Plaza, Marina Bay Sands


With his brooding look, hulking build and trademark cap atop the black ski hood framing his face, Gregory Porter cuts a striking figure.

This freshly minted winner for best jazz vocal album at this year's Grammys is tender, true and a big teddy bear, exploring all facets of hope with his sweet, supple and sanguine voice that recalled the What's Going On heyday of soul singer Marvin Gaye.

So in his nine-song set this evening, there was the smouldering yearning for lost love in Hey Laura, the upbeat tugging rhythm on No Love Dying and the plaintive prayers of his smash hit, Be Good (Lion's Song).

He even lent the wistful Max Roach-Abbey Lincoln song Lonesome Lover a soaring vibe.

Matching that with simple, soulful lyricism, the Californian-born singer-songwriter eased everyone into the evening with the impressionistic Painted On Canvas, then moved on to the Satin Doll-like riffs of On My Way To Harlem, when he cooed: "You can't keep me away from the place I was born/ I was baptised by my Daddy's horn."

"Ooooo-wee! Singapore in the house!" he yelped when the audience kept applauding his every groove.

He then turned the temperature up with Liquid Spirit, the titular tune from his latest album, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of syncopated clapping to the bopping ditty.

The one thing he could not quite do was anguish, despite his 18-year struggle for success. So the dour words to his Work Song did not catch in his throat for long and it was left to percussionist Emanuel Harrold to shade the ballad about doing time for crime with his superbly controlled ways on the hi-hats and snares.

The night's big bonus was their bandmate Yosuke Sato, a man born to play the saxophone. Opening the show with scorching squiggles of gut-groaning sound, he sent everyone swooning afterwards with his poetic cadences. How the audience cheered and wolf-whistled his loosely worn virtuosity.

"He continually gets more claps than me," Porter quipped of his pint-sized pal, who he first jammed with at St Nick's Pub in Harlem, New York, along with Harrold and their other bandmates, namely shaggy-haired Chip Crawford on piano and the scholarly Aaron James on bass. Each of them fit himself surely and snugly into the big picture of Porter's musical puzzle.

Having got the crowd on its feet with Be Good, Porter chose to close with his penned protest, 1960 - What, which commemorated that decade's race riots in Detroit.

Its intense messages, deftly delivered, capped his unalloyed, unassuming and uncommon way with melody. Pure genius.

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