By Aditya H. Prasad, Hopkins Center Arts Ambassador
Gregory Porter’s masterful understanding and practice of vocal jazz is never quite as evident as when he belts out music that he himself has written. Backed by a talented band comprising a pianist, a drummer, a tenor saxophonist, a bass guitarist and a particularly outstanding organ player, Porter shook Spaulding Auditorium with his emotional, powerful and deep voice when he performed there February 13.
An obvious follower and disciple of Nat King Cole, Porter also performed the legend’s song, “Mona Lisa.” However, his strongest piece of the evening was the title track of his 2017 album, Take Me to the Alley.
Porter’s music seemed very conversational in style, and he often broke into little spoken word ditties during the song to engage with his audience. I also really enjoyed Emanuel Harrold’s subtle and steady drumming. Porter’s style evoked the soul, gospel-filled churches of the big-voiced preachers, particularly during the song “No Love Dying,” in which he had the audience sing along with him.
Overall, Porter blended a surprisingly dynamic amount of improvisation with a standard set of clearly well thought out songs. The band was incredibly tight, and played to Porter’s strengths as a bluesy baritone thinker.