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Dynamic vocalist’s infectious energy makes for stellar show

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What a singer!

What a band!

Grammy-winner Gregory Porter’s rich baritone enthralled his audience from the moment he took the stage Wednesday night for his jazz festival performance.

His vocal style embraces jazz, gospel and R&B, but whatever label you put on it, his singing is dynamic, emotional and sincere.

And if that weren’t enough for a host of new fans at Manitoba Theatre Centre, the quartet backing Porter was superb as well.

Porter performed songs from his three albums, including some of the best from Liquid Spirit, which won the Grammy for best jazz vocal album in January.

Hey Laura packs an emotional punch, not only for Porter’s lyrics about a man’s plea to the woman he loves, but also for the utter sincerity of his singing.

No Love Dying, with its life-affirming lyrics and terrific soloing by saxophonist Yohsuke Satoh, was a highlight.

Porter did a great job evoking the back-breaking working conditions of African-Americans on Work Song, the popular piece by Nat Adderley and Oscar Brown Jr. The tune include a stupendous solo by Satoh.

Liquid Spirit’s hand-clapping gospel groove became a clap fest as Porter enticed the audience members to join in.

Pianist Chip Crawford, who was a treat to listen to throughout the show, got the spotlight on Wolfcry with a unaccompanied solo before Porter joined in to sing.

Crawford and Satoh shared most of the solo spots during the concert, but bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold were also superb. Harrold turned in some great brush work behind Porter throughout the show as well as soloing.

The musicians have played on Porter’s recordings and on tour with him and have become the kind of tight unit perfectly suited to a genre-shifting singer like Porter.

Porter is almost always on the move onstage, gesturing while he sings, and dancing and clapping during instrumental solos. He is personable, jokes easily with the audience and can add repartee to his resumé right after singing. He seems to genuinely enjoy contact with the people who have paid to see and hear him.

Such was his command of the audience’s attention that when he wrapped up the show after 90 minutes, the crowd was surprised. They hadn’t noticed the time passing and were expecting an intermission, not an encore.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

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