Gregory Porter will perform at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's James K. Polk Theater in Nashville on June 4, 2016 at 8:00 p.m.
Ever-dapper in his Kangol Summer Spitfire hat, suit jacket and wooden-wristband Nixon watch, Gregory Porter is discussing his new single. A rolling piano, organ and brass-powered soul-jazz number, it’s called Musical Genocide. It’s a provocative title – was that intentional?
“Well…” begins this Grammy-winning singer/songwriter with a chuckle. “It’s a provocative title in the sense that unfortunately the word carries significance in our history – and still does. So I meant it to be provocative in that way. But as the first lines say: ‘I do not agree, this is not for me…’”
So while, yes, “on a larger level I’m talking about that,” Porter’s song has typically multiple layers. Musical Genocide isn’t the only song on his acclaimed third album Liquid Spirit that talks about the record industry. “If you manufacture everything; if you shy away from the organic artist who’s gone through something in his life to try figure out music; if you’re only going for the sexiest, newest thing… Well, that’ll be the death of blues, of soul… So that’s what I mean.”
Luckily, this charismatic Californian is here to breathe life, and vitality, and fun, and excitement, and passion, and honesty into the musical genres he has loved from boyhood, ever since Nat “King” Cole entered his heart. It’s the central message of the album’s title: Porter is here with Liquid Spirit, offering up a replenishing, satisfying brew. As the 200,000 fans who’ve bought his albums in Germany will attest, or as the British listeners who have heard him light up the airwaves at 6 Music and BBC Radio 2 will agree, or as the lucky crowds who’ve seen him at Cheltenham Jazz Festival or playing with Gilles Peterson or his set just before Stevie Wonder at Calling Festival can vouchsafe: you can drink deep of Gregory Porter. And the best kind of intoxication will follow.
As the lyrics to his foot-stomping, high-clapping title track have it: “Un-reroute the rivers, let the dammed water be, there’s some people down the way that’s thirsty, so let the liquid spirit free…’”
It’s a sentiment that’s of a piece with the slow burning success of Liquid Spirit, released last autumn as the first fruits of Porter’s new worldwide deal with Blue Note Records, and now back in the UK mainstream charts and nearing the Top 10.
Porter has been is slowly, measuredly building his craft. It’s a work ethic – dogged, patient, respectful – that Porter learned at his mother’s knee in Bakersfield, California. Bakersfield was an epicentre of country music, but it’s mostly migrated population – from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi – had also brought with it gospel, blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, soul. This rich mixture goes some way to explaining the power and impact of Porter’s music. But he’s the first to admit that it also means it can be confusing to purists.
“I’m fully aware that everything I do doesn’t adequately please jazz traditionalists,” he says with a shrug. But he likes it that way – likes being able to appeal to the Cheltenham Jazz crowds and the younger fans of Peterson, the respected, genre-hopping DJ doyen.
But in the end it always comes back to the music. For Gregory Porter the songs, and their messages, and their power, literally are the be-all and end-all.