Gregory Porter at Roma Jazz Festival

Sala Sinopoli, Auditorium Parco della Musica - 14 November, 2015

The 39th edition of the Roma Jazz Festival began in the immediate aftermath of the recent Paris terrorist attacks, so it was perhaps inevitable that the shock waves of those events were still reverberating when the Gregory Porter Quintet took to the stage less than 24 hours later for the highly anticipated opening concert at Rome's annual Jazz fest. After a minute's silence dedicated to the victims, followed by spontaneous applause, the band appeared to cheers from the audience, cheers that transformed into an enormous roar when the man in the hat himself appeared and launched into an heartfelt Someday We'll All Be Free. Elegantly acknowledging what had happened in Paris the night before with a handful of carefully chosen words – “It is what it is...all we can do is pray...and let it be” – he swiftly moved on with On My Way to Harlem, a perfect marriage of soul and jazz that set the tone for what would be a thrilling concert.

Meeting Gregory Porter in Rome!
I came away from his last performance in Rome with a slightly obsessive determination to convert everyone I know into a Gregory Porter fan. And once again I was astounded by the sheer beauty of hearing Porter's baritone voice live and in person. I truly believe he is the greatest voice of our generation. I would happily pay good money to hear him sing my shopping list! Thankfully, the material he sings is also very, very good as he is a brilliantly versatile song writer. While the concert included some wonderful covers, such as the evening's opener by Donny Hathaway, as well as an exquisite version of Imitation of Life with Chip Crawford on piano, and the crowd-pleasing Motown classic Papa Was a Rollin' Stone (introduced by way of a thrilling virtuoso display by Jahmal Nichols on double bass), the rest of the evening was a showcase for Gregory Porter compositions. Ranging from the impassioned and political 1960 What? and Musical Genocide to the unabashed romanticism of Hey Laura and Illusion, his songs are always underpinned by thoughtful and surprising lyrics, lyrics that tell a story. Switching arrangements during live shows he has the knack of making his familiar songs sound new, while brand new songs sound like instant classics. In fact, the Rome audience was treated to a mesmerizing performance shot though with pure gospel of a new song - Take Me to the Alley – that he explained had been partly inspired by Pope Francis' recent visit to New York.

As usual Gregory Porter was accompanied by an extraordinary group of musicians and his delight in their engaging musical solos was evident. Joining the previously mentioned Crawford on piano and Nichols on bass, were talented percussionist Emanuel Harrold, and amazing trumpet player Keyon Harrold, who was seen in Rome last summer alongside D'Angelo during the Luglio Suona Bene concert season.

Returning to the stage to thunderous applause for an encore Porter remarked “I had fun tonight” before closing the show with a gorgeous, slowed down Painted on Canvas. Just perfect. Gregory Porter is a consummate performer at the very top of his game – miss him at your peril.