Porter carries us to a cooler place

Gregory Porter at The De La War Pavilion. Photo by Andy Field SUS-150626-153411001
Gregory Porter at The De La War Pavilion. Photo by Andy Field SUS-150626-153411001

Review: Gregory Porter Quintet at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, Wednesday, June 22, 2015

Even the most cursory look at Gregory Porter’s tour schedule will tell you that he is a massive star at the moment.

Bexhill’s De la Warr Pavilion stands alongside Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Rome, Paris and Glastonbury as places where informed music lovers can have their appetites for the very best in cool modern jazz indulged.

And here he was, the sound-made-flesh, filling a packed theatre with his rich, deep, velvet voice.

It says much for the talents of the team behind The Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival that they attracted Gregory Porter to our small part of the world.

But this show was more than a virtuoso performance as the support he enjoyed from his band took the evening to a higher pitch, in fact, Porter sung less on stage than he does on his albums.

Highly skilled musical exponents in their own right, the band members frequently broke out with passages of improvisation which echoed, emphasised and enriched Porter’s own vocalisations.

Chip Crawford playing a full range of styles from lush lounge piano to waves of glissando, ostinato and comping (even channelling J S Bach on ‘Be Good’), Jahmal Nichols’ double bass providing a slapping heartbeat throughout while Emanuel Harrold beat, brushed and buzz-rolled any number of chops on his drums.

But perhaps the feistier improvisations came from the alto sax of Yohsuke Sato, firing off volleys of scales at breathtaking speeds on a range of instruments. Remarkably, Sato is self-taught.

The show opened with the wonderful ‘Painted On Canvas’ after which we were treated to a sample of Porter’s musical stylings - jazz, blues, soul, gospel, and groove all came through the set.

The ballads were sung straight like ‘Hey Laura’, ‘Illusion’ and ‘Brown Grass’ while other material got a restyle, such as ‘1960 What’ ‘When Did You Learn’ and ‘No Love Dying’.

Gregory Porter is a superb singer at the absolute top of his game, a tenor who fits into the top drawer of male soul, jazz and blues singers - Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye - great names he acknowledges in some of his lyrics.

He is most powerful with his soulful protest songs, becoming what Gil Scott-Heron was destined to be.

This was an evening to be cherished for a very long time.

Credit should also be given to support band The Violet Jive, who kicked the evening off in a Philosopher Kings vibe, playing upbeat Havana meets rockabilly songs.

The Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival runs from August 27 -31 at venues in and around Rye. Tickets can be bought from www.ryejazz.com where there is more information on the festival.