Gregory Porter—jazz vocalist, singer-songwriter a ‘must be heard’
By Omowale-Ketu Oladuwa
Special to Frost Illustrated
“We are like children, we’re painted on canvases picking up shades as we go.”
—Gregory Porter, from Painted on Canvas, on Be Good
“Be Good is a musical compendium of groove-driven delights, ranging from quiet ballads to up-tempo burners, from romantic charmers to powerful, blues-tinged anthems.”—www.gregoryporter.com
There’s not a lot of music released these days that I find inspirational enough to talk about. But, one incredible new exception came into view on Valentines Day.
Gregory Porter gifted Be Good his most recent release and it is that and “all that,” and more.
Porter is a poet, a lyrical singer-songwriter. Musically adroit, he possesses superb musicianship and has a voice that is magnetic soul, pulling you into the scene of each nerve tingling scene. Porter is a scat master that Betty Carter and Ella would approve with hallelujah hands. This California native has the cool of Nat King Cole and the swing of Harlem, the soulfulness of Louis Armstrong with a deeply embedded love of the tradition, the improvisational clarity of Ella; and the incomparable voice and style of Gregory Porter (reminiscent of Andy Bey, Leon Thomas, Nat King Cole and Donny Hathaway).
Porter is that—“all that,” and more!
As a poet, of course, I start with the music of his lyrics that are cut from the mundane quick, from the storms of living-in-relationship with experiences that burst the soul opening it to the gospel of real life.
Porter is a griot, a storyteller weaving his voice with a needle of words around identifiable experience.
Dig from Real Good Hands. And check out the “old school” intro as the brother goes to the parents and announces his intentions:
Mama don’t you worry bout your daughter ‘cause you’re leaving her in real good hands, I’m a real good man. Now the picture of this man is slowly coming into view.
Papa don’t you fret and don’t forget that one day you was in my shoes, Somehow you paid your dues. Now you’re the picture of a man that I someday want to be.
I know it’s hard, watching the changes in our lives, But I want to make your daughter my wife.
And when he tells us in On My Way To Harlem, “You can’t keep me away from where I was born, I was baptized by my daddy’s horn,” you know you’re mainlining as the chills run up your spine. From his social commentary in On My Way To Harlem to his homage to his mother (Mother’s Song), to his words from Our Love:
How did we meet?
This is the question of our love
They pray defeat
Petty pallbearers of our love
Forces of hate have stormed the gates
around the castles of our love
Don’t it sound sweet?
And this from Mothers Song:
Listen, gather ‘round me children, children of a mother whose life lifted up joy
Listen, gather ‘round me children, children of a mother whose life lifted up hope
A mother who taught all of her children to love and be loved by each other
Hold your baby sister’s hand as she walks across life and look out for each other
Carry your brother’s load, don’t you ever, ever betray him
Go to the store, buy grandmamma a pound of love,
I believe it’s on sale
Porter is a force to be reckoned with and recognized, as his 2010 Grammy nominated release Water testifies.
A band he’s worked with more than three years backs Porter, these brothers cook! Led by pianist Chip Crawford, whose sensitive playing throughout is the perfect accent for Porter’s vocals. Kamau Kenyatta’s longstanding relationship with Porter is evident as the two open Be Good with Painted On Canvas—an idyllic beginning. Bassist Aaron James is Porter’s point man on Nat Adderly and Oscar Brown Jr.’s Work Song, and on Bling Bling drummer Emanuel Harrold has a disciplined percussive hand that makes all else possible. Yosuke Sato’s alto sax is Porter alter ego. And guest instrumentalists Keyon Harrold on trumpet and Tivon Pennicott on tenor sax are also featured throughout this Brian Bacchus produced sophomore Motéma release.
iCrates Magazine says about Porter, “His humble respect for the genre’s trailblazers make his achievements all the more extraordinary, successfully carving out a sound for himself within a traditional framework that showcases his deep, powerful voice at every opportunity. A lion’s mane tamed by his idiosyncratic bonnet, Gregory Porter is an unmistakable force on stage as well as on record.”
Yeah, Gregory Porter is that and “all that,” and more!
Poet, writer, musician, social commentary and cultural guardian Ketu Oladuwa is artistic director of the Three Rivers Institute of Afrikan Arts & Culture and a cohost of the Acoustic SpokenWord Café on WBOI 89.1 FM.