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Gregory Porter 'Take Me To The Alley' review

Gregory Porter stays true to his roots on this incredible scoping of his soul and jazz mastery.

Ben Smith

Date published: 16th May 2016

Image: Gregory Porter 

An immediate reference point to Gregory Porter's incredible soul operatic is his collaboration with Disclosure on Caracal track 'Holding On'.

Until that link-up, Gregory Porter's name passed relatively under the radar outside of soul and jazz circles in the UK.

It's quite remarkable when you consider he won a Grammy for best jazz vocal with previous record Liquid Spirit. And quite frankly, it wouldn't be surprising if this record put him in contention for a further accolade.

On Take Me To The Alley thoughthe soul and jazz musician strips back to home territory and paints away with his quite spectacular baritone voice.  

Just like an incredible jazz album should, the record translates like a pulse of warmth piercing the cold air. There's no strenuous effort to open up to a newly forged pop audience. Porter sticks to his roots. His impacting voice is complimented immensely by well-mapped composition that hinges on fluttering piano keys, pulsing bass chords and paper thin hi-hat brushes. 

When Porter's imposing vocal is swept aside, meandering interludes of brass take the lead - like on his glowing interpretation of 'Holding On' that's intercepted by a crisp trumpet passage or during rhythm and blues jam 'Don't Lose Your Steam' that transmits with an effervescence similar to a Stevie Wonder hit.

This buoyancy is short-lived, Porter's social story-telling is for the most part served by a leisurely tempo. 'Take Me To The Alley' - a stand-out track is draped in sentiment; with Porter offering a loving hand to the "afflicted" and "lonely" in his home-town of Bakersfield, while 'Daydream' gets personal, opening up about his young son Demyan. 

There's also feelings of regret and loss etched into this record; the waltzing bass sound of "In Heaven" bleeds into a farewell song to deceased loved ones; on 'Insanity' Amy Winehouse's 'Love Is A Losing Game' is echoed. 

A double-salvo of 'Fan The Fames' and 'French African Queen' hike in tempo for a carnival finish. On the former Gregory stresses "tear down the walls of hate/fill up the bowls of the hungry/break the sax and let the rice run free" - to perfectly capture the genre's afro-american origins. 

It's perhaps fitting that Amy Winehouse draws reference, for it's difficult to recall an artist who's accomplished a cross-over appeal from jazz/soul quarters since the late singer stole the nations heart with Frank.

What's affirmative though, no matter what the strain or genre, is that an exceptional voice will always prevail. And even more so with Gregory's depiction of love and life experience.

Like this? Read our live review of Hiatus Kaiyote in Manchester