Sunday 9th May 2022
Gregory Porter is an American singer, songwriter and actor, who has twice won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album: first in 2014 for Liquid Spirit and then again in 2017 for Take Me to the Alley. Describing his own gospel roots, Porter cites the likes of Donny Hathaway, Nat King Cole, Bill Withers and Ray Charles as distinct influences, and Porter certainly channels their spirit. It’s no wonder then that Manchester’s AO Arena was a full house for the jazz troubadour.
Lady Blackbird strode out first – graceful and a transcendent performer of songs old and new. She crooned through half a dozen jazz epics – she’s an artist whose approach, outlook and vibe is summed up in the title of her stunning forthcoming debut album, Black Acid Soul. By the time the curtain came down on Lady Blackbird’s mesmerising forty minutes, the arena was starting to brood for the contemporary jazz master that is Porter.
The ‘man with the hat’ eventually emerged, suited and smiling, to deliver an evening of pure musical quality, nostalgia and silk in which his honey-rich voice wrapped the bewitched audience like a warm hug. Backed by some fabulous musicians, the show swung through jazz, soul, gospel and blues, with Gregory charming the masses with Hey Laura, Take Me To The Alley, L-O-V-E and I Do Not Agree. There were moments where you could have heard the pulse of your own heartbeat as the crowd hung on Gregory’s every word.
We were also treated to further favourites from the back catalogue, including If Love Is Overrated – and we even got a rousing cover of The Temptations’ classic, Papa Was A Rolling Stone.
It’s not the fact that Porter is a jazz singer of thrilling presence, or the fact that his booming baritone holds the audience in his palm like some sort of prophet meets David Attenborough, but more the fact that he’s so humble and softly spoken in between that melts you. Sometimes throughout the night it was difficult to distinguish between periods of song and periods of story and anecdote – the pin-drop quietude in a massive building jam-packed is something I’ve never experienced before.
I left feeling as though I’d been to the spa – revitalised, refreshed, calmed and thoroughly entertained. If he comes around again, which I’m certain he will, I for one will be there with bells on!