Reviews Zone

Gregory Porter: Live in Berlin

DVD / Blu-ray, Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2016.

Running time: Approx 128 minutes.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

“Gregory Porter Live In Berlin”, features sixteen songs from his stellar career, which took off in 2010 with the launch of his debut album Water – nominated for a ‘Best Jazz Vocal Album’ Grammy in 2012.

He has since recorded three more albums, all of which have garnered critical praise as well as awards. But it was his 2013 recording “Liquid Spirit,” that won him a coveted Grammy in 2014 for ‘Best Jazz Vocal.’

Gregory Porter describes himself as a jazz singer, a fact which is incontestable, but his jazz style also draws on soul and blues and Porter expertly weaves these different styles into his songs, a skill to which he has become adept in his studio recordings as well as in his live performances.

This film displays that expertise well. Porter demonstrates his ability to vocalise in a wide range, from rich bass to sonorous alto, in a relaxed and controlled style.

He acknowledges his influences throughout the set, as well as in the short introductory overdubs at the start of each song, which give the newcomer to his music and the seasoned Gregory Porter fan, an insight into each song. Introductions by members of his band also feature throughout the film, which give an additional angle on Porter the singer, performer and songwriter.

Porter’s band, has a dextrous ‘joined at the hip’ synergy and this shows in the way this concert is filmed and recorded, and that synergy is clearly a very important ingredient to his music.

The focus is the performance and the music, which is conveyed in a simply-lit, well-executed, full concert, from a series of fixed and mobile camera positions, with sympathetic editing, devoid of any split-image razzamatazz or unnecessary nano-second snatches of film.

Eagle Rock Productions have succeeded in creating a relaxed ambience that gives the viewer a feeling of being at the performance, rather than as an outsider just ‘watching’.

Recorded live at the Philharmonie in Berlin, this is a venue that Porter holds up alongside New York’s Carnegie Hall or London’s Royal Albert Hall, for its acoustical integrity and status, as well as its unique design, which has seating in front of and behind the performers: “It feels like the audience is wrapped around us …” says a smiling Gregory Porter.

“Holding On,” from his latest album “Take Me To The Alley”, (an album that has just been nominated for a Grammy), a reworking of his 2015 recording with the electronic act ‘Disclosure’, starts off the concert.

“On My Way To Harlem” / “What’s Going On”, from his second album “Be Good” (2012), is an autobiographical look back at when he went to live in Brooklyn in 2004 and played a weekly residency at St. Nicks Pub, in Harlem, a club where he met pianist Chip Crawford and drummer Emanuel Harrold, who form half of his band. The other half, bass player, Jahmal Nichols and tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott joined Porter at a later date.

Porter tips his hat to Marvin Gaye with a “What’s Going On,” tag at the end of the song. The title track to “Take Me To The Alley”, another autobiographical mid-tempo song. That is followed by “Don’t Lose Your Steam”, an up-tempo funk-driven foot-tapper with splashes of Bill Withers’ sound, dedicated to Porter’s young son.

This song, along with “Consequence Of Love”, “Don’t Be A Fool” and “In Fashion” are also from the current album. They are followed by “Be Good (Lion’s Song)”. The gentle ballad, “Hey Laura”, contrasts with “Liquid Spirit”, and suddenly it’s Sunday, and we’re in church, clapping along with this up-tempo gospel number, which features solos from Chip Crawford and Emanuel Harrold.

“Musical Genocide”, another “Liquid Spirit” track, features Chip Crawford’s versatile playing, in which he slots in a solo using the melody line from The Jackson 5 hit “Never Can Say Goodbye”, while drummer Emanuel Harrold’s hi-hat ride and bass drum kicks the beat along.

The classic gospel feel is continued with “Work Song / Drum Solo” (from 2012’s “Be Good”) in which Emanuel Harrold lets his drum kit do the talking! The fluid tenor saxophone of Tivon Pennicott is present in all songs, solos that range in texture from smooth and soulful to downright avant-garde. The urgent, driving, dynamic bass of Jahmal Nichols, featured on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”, whether on upright or electric bass, provides a constant foundation for Porter’s songs.

In “1960 What?” – a protest song with a Gil Scott-Heron vibe and the only song from his debut album “Water”, Porter examines some of the social injustices that existed throughout ‘sixties America. “Water Under Bridges,” showcases Chip Crawford’s sympathetic piano accompaniment and his delicate, lyrical style.  “Free,” another “Liquid Spirit,” song has the ultimate get-off number tagged on to it – Sly Stone’s, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”.

“Gregory Porter: Live In Berlin”, and the bonus featurette, “Recorded In Berlin,” give an insightful ‘Access All Areas’ pass to the music and the life of Mr Gregory Porter.

 

By Geoff Carverhill 

 


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