Anyone who caught Gregory Porter’s stunning tribute to Prince on Later… with Jools Holland will know just what an imposing vocal force this man is. The Californian led an emphatic rendition of Purple Rain on the BBC show last week, and the talent on display that night can be heard no clearer than on this fourth LP Take Me To The Alley. Porter’s voice effortlessly reels in the listener as he fires out every melody with a paradoxical fusion of warming tenderness and sheer, soulful power.
Jazz has been seeping through the mainstream music world at a quickening pace since the beginning of the decade, and be it due to acts such as Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar incorporating jazz sounds into pop and dance records, or less radio-friendly artists like Kamashi Washington, the saxophonist who emerged from 2015 with one of the year’s most highly-praised albums, the rise of traditional jazz and blues music is seemingly unstoppable. What Gregory Porter presents here is an intriguing compromise that sees soulful and melodious vocal lines that could easily befit a more commercial vocalist intertwine with experimental, free-flowing instrumental sections. The results are truly outstanding.
Though the instrumental arrangements on Take Me To The Alley are second to none, it’s Porter’s almighty voice that remains focal, and rightfully so, throughout. That he was in the original cast of Broadway musical It Ain’t Nothing But The Blues is rather telling, as each word and syllable is enunciated with emotive, professional precision and every note hit with astonishing ease. Finely implemented backing vocal harmonies gradually form around the lead singer’s melody on Day Dream, as Porter sings about ‘Getting older, growing taller, getting smarter, he’ll find his way’, whilst In Fashion, a cool downbeat number, sees him showcase his scatting abilities.
Lyrically Porter tackles faith and the true meaning of religion on the album’s title track, and goes on to explore themes as disparate as childhood innocence (Day Dream) and death (In Heaven) throughout the remainder of the LP. It’s a challenging record, thankfully made easier to swallow by the cool jazz pianos and minimalist drum rhythms, not to mention the singer’s silky vocal delivery. One can almost hear Amy Winehouse riffing over the top of the music, complex and yet conversely accessible as it is.
A notable chapter in the story of jazz music’s rise to the forefront of the alternative music scene, Take Me To The Alley is a superb pop album, despite refusing to abandon its traditional principles. From Porter’s warm, soulful vocals to the seductive, free-flowing pianos that give the album its almost organically formless tone, one cannot help but find themselves entranced by it from start to finish. Sure to be loved by music fans of all ages and backgrounds, this is one of the strongest albums of the year so far.