Release Date: May 6, 2016
Record label: Blue Note
In 2013, Gregory Porter made his debut with jazz’s premiere label, Blue Note, with Liquid Spirit, a record that was just about perfect in its way. Porter had already been nominated for a couple Grammys based on previous work, and Spirit won for Best Jazz Vocal. The singer owns a soulful, flexible, expressive baritone and a gift for writing songs that coo and shout and tell personal stories.
There’s something striking about the press reviews of singer-songwriter Gregory Porter’s third album, Liquid Spirit (2013). They’re all written by specialist jazz critics, full of references to the singer’s rhythmic phrasing, the tasty call-and-response between bass and vocals and the steady eighth-note strut in the right hand of the title track’s piano solo. Nothing wrong with that, of course.
With 2013's Liquid Spirit, jazz singer and songwriter Gregory Porter's Blue Note debut, he accomplished what few in his vocation have in recent decades -- sold over a million albums globally. He also won the 2014 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. In addition, in 2015, U.K. electronic unit Disclosure released "Holding On" -- a co-write with the singer that featured his vocal -- as the lead single from their Caracal album.
In May 2015, Disclosure released a song called “Holding On,” a dance tune that put singer Gregory Porter on full display. The collaboration likely wasn’t a big deal for Disclosure fans: The group works with big name R&B singers quite often; compared to Sam Smith or Miguel, Porter is certainly under the radar. For Porter, though, the feature was somewhat surprising given his career path.
Last year Gregory Porter told me that “Holding On,” his sleek, skittering collaboration with the British dance duo Disclosure, started out as a bare-bones piano ballad. Given how much I'd thought of Porter’s fine 2013 album, “Liquid Spirit,” this was something I had to hear. Now I can: A handsome, slow-and-low rendition of “Holding On” — not merely unplugged, but with different chords that alter the vibe of the song — opens Porter’s new record, “Take Me to the Alley,” due Friday.
Whatever his subject matter, the 44-year-old jazz singer-songwriter Gregory Porter has never strayed far from the church of his childhood, and this fourth album as a leader, his second for Blue Note, continues his soul-preacher style — or, as he has called it, “songs of love and protest. ” The title cut imagines a kind of secular second coming (“They will be surprised/ when they hear him say/ Take me to the alley/ take me to the afflicted ones”), with consoling vocal harmony by Alicia Olatuja. “Holding On,” which Porter originally recorded with the British electronica outfit Disclosure, here gets a simmering, subdued treatment, accented by the hi-hat’s swish and tick and muted-trumpet obbligato.