Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Gregory Porter - Take Me To The Alley, album review

Wonderful Rise and Fall

I have struggled with this album. Struggled at first to hear it as memorable as his previous Liquid Spirit – expecting and knowing it would be good, even very good, but having the highest expectations – and then listening more and more [this in itself an indication of considerable appeal as I rarely revisit these days] I have struggled to think of superlatives in describing without resorting to simple cliché or simple enthusiasm.

This initial reservation is probably because of the whole album’s easy accessibility, the collection of mainstream and pop and soul jazz, all consummately calm and pleasant and brilliantly orchestrated and sung. Again, all the least I would expect, this aroused by my consistent liking for Porter from his first Water in 2010 [reviewed here] to seeing him so recently live in Bristol.

Opener Holding On sets a template for later tracks that clinched the deal for me, the deal to regard this as an outstanding album. Its staccato piano chords and walking bass reflect a pattern of rise and fall throughout so many tracks that take Porter’s vocal through its effortless range, but especially lower which has a hypnotic impact. A fine song in its own right, and some reviewers have regarded this and the next two to three as its core strength [a ‘top heavy’ observation in the allaboutjazz excellent review], I favour later tracks. The most upbeat on the album, second Don’t Lose Your Steam continues to be haunted for this listener by its repeated tandem address young man because, ridiculously and annoyingly, I keep hearing the Harry Enfield catchphrase quip from The Lovely Wobbly Randy Old Ladies Ooh! Young man! I don’t imagine Porter will be aware….

The title song is the third track, and as I said in my review of his Bristol gig, I was pleased to hear it live and experience something of its gentleness as an emotive encounter, and on the album Alicia Olatuja accompanies beautifully, Porter’s bass notes taking some command now, Keyon Harold on late-night trumpet serenade.

The album hits its stride with fifth Consequence of Love, dominant if simple opening piano chords and walking bass again, the melody line rising up and down until hitting a mild funk beat and Ondrrej Pivec on distant organ. It is so simple and effective. Next In Fashion grips tighter, a staccato piano striking setting the rhythm before that breaks into a little descending sweet succession of notes, Porter’s vocal climbing from low in the opposite direction and then plaining on a cuddly scat, it that isn’t too much of a paradox. Seventh More Than a Woman glides up and down to rest deep in the title line more than a woman, resonating there, and a gorgeous tribute to Porter’s late mother, gave love life, and religious references given a deep metaphoric meaning in this genuine eulogy whereas lyrically Porter can occasionally come across as twee if always earnest.

Ninth Insanity is a lovelorn ballad moving through that range with Harold serenading again, Aaron James superb on bass, and Porter reverberating his bass vocals to passionate effect. Tenth Don’t Be a Fool is a gospel tune, Pivec in background again but authentically layering a spiritual organ, Porter and Olatuja combining so sweetly on listen to these charms, baby I’m not fooling, and fall into these open arms of love: quite sublime. Penultimate Fan the Flames reminds that upbeat does exist on this album and the band getting a work-out as well as Porter delivering some ‘proper’ scatting, but it is the serene rise and fall that exudes throughout the whole, if slowly over listens, its warmest embrace.

[Top picture is of the signed card received when having pre-ordered the cd; there is now a deluxe edition with further mixes, and it does extend the excellence]

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