Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirit in Rome

Auditorium Parco della Musica - 10 April, 2014

Liquid Spirit CD autographed by Gregory Porter in Rome
When I first heard Gregory Porter singing Be Good on YouTube I fell in love with his voice in a heartbeat. While I was born too late to see Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye or Ray Charles perform on stage, I now feel truly privileged to have seen Gregory Porter – whose own jazz-meets-soul voice seems to combine something of all three – in concert. Hearing that glorious baritone voice live on Thursday evening at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome convinced me that he may well possess the greatest voice of our time. Porter has released three albums so far, Water, Be Good, and the recent Grammy-winner Liquid Spirit, but as he opened with Painted on Canvas from his second album, it became instantly clear that these recordings, as great as they are, pale in comparison to the sheer immensity and warmth of his voice in concert.

Gregory Porter is a hugely charismatic performer. From the second this gentle giant of a man appeared on stage wearing his ubiquitous “jazz hat”, smiling in acknowledgement of the spontaneous cheer from the audience, he completely seduced us - not only with his voice, but also by his elegant stage presence. Together with his extremely talented quartet of musicians - Chip Crawford on piano, Yosuke Sato on alto sax, bassist Aaron James, and drummer Emanuel Harrold, who all performed captivating solos during the show - Porter cast a magic spell in Rome, and transformed the thousand-seater Sala Sinopoli concert hall into an intimate jazz club.

Ostensibly in Rome to promote Liquid Spirit, there were plenty of songs from this album. Presenting the title track early on in the evening, he invited the audience to “Clap your hands on the two and the four and if you want to wiggle in your seats, that would be okay too...” . Rome audiences are some of the most enthusiastic clappers-along I’ve ever known, and indeed this proved a sure fire way of ratcheting up the atmosphere to a peak of enthusiasm that never seemed to diminish throughout the entire show. Rome clearly loves Gregory Porter, and he rewarded his Roman fans with an impromptu nod to Sam Cooke and a tantalizingly brief lyric from Rome wasn’t built in a day.

In such a consistently perfect performance from an artist with such an enormous range of moods, and a dextrous ability to shift across genres mixing gospel, blues, and soul influences into his jazz, it is extremely difficult to pick any single highlights. Certainly Wolfcry, which saw Porter alone on stage with only the accompaniment of Crawford on piano, was mesmerising; Lonesome Lover segued brilliantly into Hit the Road Jack and was an enormous crowd pleaser; No Love Dying, Work Song and Be Good featured impressive solos from the band; and the impassioned civil rights anthem 1960 What? with an a cappella audience singalong at the end was the perfect choice after Musical Genocide, Porter’s condemnation of disposable market-driven pop.

Back on stage for an encore after thunderous applause Porter eased the evening to a close with a lovely Real Good Hands, before greeting fans and signing autographs in the Auditorium Bookstore after the show. Getting to meet and shake hands with the man himself was the perfect end to a wonderful evening. As Nat King Cole once sang...Unforgettable.