Joint Album Of The Month (August)
(5 / 5)
“All Rise” is a phrase you’ll hear in any courthouse across the world, whenever the judge enters the room.
“All Rise” is US jazz star Gregory Porter’s sixth studio album, out on Friday of this week. So, what’s the verdict your Honour?
Guilty. By a unanimous decision. Bang to rights. Caught red handed. Throw the book at him….For being in possession of a stunning album. I rest my case….
Back a few years, before many had heard of Gregory Porter in the UK, I was sent a few tracks by email from a contact who told me I would “flip” when I heard this guy’s voice. I did!
So much so, I think it was even before any of his music had been released here, I requested an interview with the man behind this other-worldly vocal talent, and soon I was speaking to him at his New York home.
I was sent his debut album pre-release, and gave it a rave review. The magazine I worked for then also published the exclusive interview I did with him, which apparently had various music biz VIPs seeking him out.
In my coverage, I predicted future stardom for Gregory, commercial cross-over to make him a darling of national UK radio and TV, mainstream chart success and future sold-out tours in major venues.
I didn’t need a crystal ball to be spot on with my prophecy. Just a minute or two with that voice in my grateful ears, and that was enough. He came across as a genuinely nice and humble guy on the ‘phone, too.
Soon after our lengthy chat on the ‘phone back circa nine or 10 years ago, Gregory tweeted his thanks to me for the interview and said he looked forward to meeting me when he came over here to do a show in London.
Back then, he was booked to appear at a pizza and music venue in the capital. Today he sells out The Royal Albert Hall and has stepped up to the vast 02 arena! If the size of his venues were directly related to how good his latest album is, then he should soon be filling Wembley Stadium when things get back to normal!
All 15 tracks are special. The strength of the self-penned material and the wow factor of his instrument are breath taking.
Opening with the wonderful vocal on “Concorde”. Shivers down the spine-time. So natural, so soulful you could shower in it. Lovely song and a tasty appetiser to the rest of this musical meal.
“Dad Gone Thing” sits on a nifty gospel-meets-New Orleans groove, where greasy organ and raspy horns take us to church. Ramsey Lewis-style piano solo. Destined to be a sure-fire, crowd-pleaser.
First single “Revival Song”, stays with the spiritual side of things, with Gregory’s trade-mark hand claps driving it along. Another soul-soaked and faultless vocal on a rousing track. Piano, horns, backing vocals and Gregory’s vocal gifts weave together later in the track to create a controlled frenzy. Ray Charles territory. Gorgeous.
The pace slows for the beautiful ballad “If Love Is Overrated”. Subtle strings and percussion add to the emotion. Any comparisons to Gregory’s hero Nat King Cole would not be out of place or OTT here. A standout cut.
Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” meets ‘Philly Sound’ vibes on “Faith In Love”, with the Gene Page style string arrangement. The guitar solo conjures up memories of George Benson or the late Ronny Jordan. A commercial, radio-ready track.
The chilled “Merchants in Love” has an unusual arrangement. A fit for a stage musical or musical movie soundtrack. “Long List of Troubles” has a more aggressive vocal delivery, with punchy horns and a moody vibe.
“Mr Holland” isn’t a tribute to his mate Jools. It tells the story of the father of a young beauty queen called Rosie, a man who has no issue with the colour of his daughter’s suitor’s skin colour.
In these BLM times, and the daily racism hell that many African-American men and women face in the US, this track has poignancy and relevance. But there is no preaching here – just great music and a good song from Gregory’s heart.
Lush and melancholic strings open “Modern Day Apprentice”, which sounds like the start of a 1940s love story movie. Gregory sounds stunning.
While there is not one duff vocal across this set, one of the best vocals crops up on track 10, “Everything You Touch Is Gold”. Gregory shifts gears from his ‘in your boots’ velvet baritone resonance that could melt granite, to then soulfully soar before switching it up to a breathy falsetto.
The Chet Baker-ish horn solo adds to the late-night mood. The higher end of the register scat singing is a nice touch. If you dig the smooth soul of the likes of Luther Vandross, then this track has your name on it. Seduction level 10.
“Phoenix” is for all singers to study the phrasing and control. Well, in hindsight, pick any one of 15, or all of ‘em. This is, to coin a cliched and oft’ churned out phrase, a vocal masterclass. It really is. I shall resist the temptation to use that other old chestnut about ‘the phone book…………….’
Pretty mid-tempo and stripped down “Merry Go Round” again shows great use of strings, with another perfect string arrangement. As there is on the lovely “Real Truth” where Gregory opens up those pipes and lets rip. Jazz fusion synth’ comes in late in the song, but I’m not sure it needed it at all.
Penultimate cut “You Can Join My Band”, and the back to church gospel closer, “Thank You”, maintain the sheer quality of this set. There is total sincerity when Gregory sings praise to God and gives thanks for what his Lord has given him, and it never takes away from the music or feels like he is ramming his faith down your throat.
Far from it. This man couldn’t fake anything if his life depended on it, with a voice like that and lyrics coming from his heart and his soul! (Best not go into politics then, Gregory!)
Whether you believe in a God or not, no one with hearing can deny that this man has a rare gift. It must be heard. He’s not put a foot wrong yet with the six albums and the music he gives to the world. In fact, if his next album were a bunch of thrash metal songs, I’d go buy it.
The voice is only part of this wonderful experience. The song writing is exemplary and his story telling ability – where he pulls you in to hang on every word and every line – is a rare thing. The non-fussy, less is more production leaves space, allowing the songs to breath. The musicianship is exemplary too.
The album is produced by Troy Miller (Calvin Harris, Rag’n’Bone Man, Amy Winehouse), and Gregory is ably supported by his long time band mates, a handpicked horn section, a 10-member choir and the London Symphony Orchestra Strings. He has that skill of choosing tight-fit songs and no fillers, and of making you feel like he is singing just for you.
There’s a real intimacy here. Having seen him live, I can say that he can do that to circa 90,000 with a daytime slot at a mainstream musical festival of predominantly young people, or in the plush surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall or in a big marquee at a jazz festival – and on TV and on all of his recordings.
“All Rise” is the follow-up to his 2017 hit album “Nat King Cole & Me”, which peaked at number three in the UK album chart. His debut album “Water” was released in 2010, but it was his first on the famed Blue Note label, “Liquid Spirit” in 2013 that really broke through.
Winning him a Grammy for his efforts. Grammy number two landed for “Take Me To The Alley” in 2016. A total of six Grammy nominations so far.
Here’s the thing. I listen to many albums and tracks every day of my life, and all sorts of genres, from all over the world and have done for more than four decades in my work. But I cannot recall the last time I was smiling my face off from track one to the very last notes of a long player. As I was with this one.
So, here’s my latest prediction for GP: Destined for top spot in the UK and US jazz and mainstream album charts…and it will win him another Grammy.
No labels. No pigeonholing. Genres matter not. Is it jazz? Is it soul? Is it blues? Is it gospel? Who cares? What it is, is 100% CLASS.
We may at some time in our lives ask ourselves why we were put on this earth. Gregory Porter has no need to ask himself that. On the last track here, he sings: “I am just a mortal man”. I’m not so sure, you know……..
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’