Thursday, October 16, 2014


Gregory Porter
No doubt, Gregory Porter is the top male vocalist in jazz right now. His 2012 album “Be Good” put him on the map, and his follow up “Liquid Spirit” earned him a Grammy. He caught many jazz fans off-guard when he hit the scene about five years ago. Jazz has male vocalists of all makes and models, but none as dynamic or as grassroots as Porter.

Wednesday evening at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, Porter opened the University Musical Society 2014-2015 jazz series with a near flawless two-hour set. Porter and his band – saxophonist Yosuke Sato, pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Jahmal Nichols, and drummer Emanuel Harrold – performed cuts from Porter’s albums “Water,” “Be Good” and “Liquid Spirit”. The two-hour set was heavy on music from the latter album.

Porter’s band came out first. Right off, they got chummy with the melody of “Painted On Canvass,” one of the best cuts from “Be Good”. Then Porter walked out. He was only a handful of choruses into the song before the crowd lost their ever-loving minds. He’s a vocalist capable of singing R&B, blues, and jazz with equal aplomb.

Porter has a lot of stagecraft. All concert long, he had the crowd geeked, and yelling the title of songs they wanted him to sing. At times, he had the swagger of a country preacher, especially when he belted “No Dying Here” and “Be Good”. Porter is big on crowd participation also. Often during the set, the crowd was working and singing harder than Porter.

The night’s most endearing moment was Porter’s duet with pianist Chip Crawford on “Imitation of Life”.  Porter’s voice melted over the lyrics. His band is capable for the most part, and he allowed them more leeway than any band backing vocalists should get.

Saxophonist Yosuke Sato was all over the map. He has the stage presents of a smooth jazz saxophonist, heavy on long soloing and grandstanding. Yes, he sounded good, but there wasn’t much meaning to his solos.  He seemed to recycle the same note during one long solo after the other.

At first, his solos were engaging and they got the crowd psyched. But roughly four songs into the set the long soloing became annoying. Crawford was guilty of the same sin. To Sato's and Crawford's credit, the audience was engrossed. 

Sato and Crawford were definitely showboating. It appeared as if they were competing with Porter. Porter encouraged the behavior. So not only is Porter a freakishly awesome vocalist he's also a generous  and a liberal bandleader. 
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