Simply put, Gregory Porter may be our next great jazz singer.
On Water, his debut release, he covers all the bases a talented young singer would set out to do, and then some. He croons standards like “But Beautiful” and “Skylark” with Nat King Cole cool. He attacks Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile” with a vengeance, scatting between the trumpet lines of Melvin Vines and sax of James Spaulding. His own compositions, particularly the politically charged tour de force “1960 What?” recall nothing so much as the activist music of Max Roach and Oscar Brown fifty years ago.
Part of what makes Porter’s work so memorable is his integration of the band into each number. Rarely is the music purely “accompaniment” for the vocals, but rather all part of a greater whole. Click here to listen to “Wisdom”, a Daniel Jackson composition to which Porter contributed lyrics. When he references the gospel of “Wade in the Water”, its not clear if the song is about surviving a natural disaster or obtaining spiritual grace. Pianist Chip Crawford contributes a terrific solo, stretching the tune and setting off Porter’s emotional singing.
The young singer has a strong musical theater background, having already been on Broadway with “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues”, and had his one-man play “Nat King Cole & Me” successfully produced in Denver and Houston. He opened in the Chicago area this week in the four person musical “Low Down Dirty Blues”, a six week run at the Northlight Theater. Catch him while you can.