Gregory Porter – Take Me To The Alley (2016): Review

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For a jazz artist crossing his/her art form with pop music can be a hazardous affair. So called jazz aficionados often tend not to take the journey or the destination seriously and many recordings have fell by the wayside and eventually, the bargain buckets. Gregory Porter is of course unmistakably primarily a jazz artist, but his first dip into the mainstream on 2013s “Liquid Spirit”, not only reached the top 10 UK album chart, but also won the singer a 2014 Grammy Award for best jazz vocal album. In addition, it went gold and became the most streamed album from the genre since records began. Last year Porter’s cause was sewn up by booming remixes and in turn dance floor smashes from Claptone’s version of “Liquid Spirit”,and “Holding On” with electronic duo Disclosure, which appears again as the opening song on his latest LP, “Take Me To The Alley”. As before, the arrangements are sparse yet effective, leaving ample space for Porter to fill with his warm baritone, and a host of instrumental soloists to sprinkle some magic. He may not be the most dynamic vocalist on the planet, but there’s a unique simplicity and conviction to his voice, which in turn highlights the melodies perfectly.

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Much of “Take Me To The Alley” is filled with Gospel nostalgia, spiritual, and sentimental. The mood is thoroughly relaxed, allowing Porter to reflect on the joys and sorrows of his life. The paternal advice to his son on “Don’t Lose Your Steam” and “Day Dream”, and the sorrowful reminders of his mother (More Than A Woman”) feel intensely personal. Love in its many facets is not far from the singer’s lyrical palette, and “Consequence Of Love” and “Insanity” remind the listener of Bill Withers or Lou Rawls. Porter is more than ably supported by the musicians around him, in particular, drummer Emmanuel Harold and acoustic bass player Aaron James providing some delicate, occasionally exploratory rhythms. Because most of arrangements are so spacious, it often feels like there’s a back handed invite for DJ’s and mixers from the dance community to pick up the songs for further investigation.

“Take Me To The Alley” has nothing to do with narrowing musical genres. It simply utilizes the jazz tradition as a base for stepping into unexplored areas. And it works!

8/10

Track Rating

1 – Holding On (8)
2 – Don’t Lose Your Steam (8)
3 – Take Me To The Alley (8)
4 – Day Dream (7)
5 – Consequence Of Love (8)
6 – In Fashion (6)
7 – More Than A Woman (6)
8 – In Heaven (9)
9 – Insanity (8)
10 – Don’t Be A Fool (8)
11 – Fan The Flames (8)
12 – French African Queen (8)
13 – Holding On (9)
14 – Insanity (8)

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