Review: Porter charms despite sound problems

Gregory Porter

In a performance seemingly riddled with technical difficulties, Gregory Porter and his band still managed to churn out an enjoyable night of jazz to Spoleto USA festival goers.

Outfitted in a white collared shirt and vest, grey slacks, and his signature black hat and ear-and-neck cover-up, the California-born jazzman stood with a jubilant smile in front the orange and pink glow as the sun set against the lit College of Charleston Cistern Yard. It didn’t take much for the audience to soak in the romanticism of the set aesthetics, amplified when Porter opened his performance with, “Painted on Canvas.”

Although Porter performed it well, there was something a bit subdued about the way in which he chose to sing; shying away from the richly powerful baritone and warm vibrato audiences might be used to hearing.

It was clear on songs like, “Canvas,” “On My Way to Harlem,” “No Love Dying” and “Water” that there was something not quite right about the sound system. Pianist Chip Crawford did as best he could to play his improv on the keys to an audible level, but the subtleties of his performance were often drowned out by the openness of the venue. Same for double bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold.

A true highlight of the night came from saxophonist, Yosuke Sato. Maybe it was because the audience was able to hear the virtuosity of his playing clearly, but either way, Sato closed his eyes, shook his head, and let his sax dip, dive and weave through melodies alongside Porter’s vocals. Sato made a great accompaniment to the otherwise quelled jazz singer.

That’s not to say that Porter didn’t put on a good show. His vocals began to settle in later in the performance, during ballad songs like “Real Good Hands,” and the old spiritual call-and-response, “Work Song.” And his charming personality showed through in his quips to the audience (“This is the South, y’all should have rhythm, right?”).

At various parts of the show, Porter would, in a random burst of sudden excitement, stop singing and clap his hands, rock back and forth, and yell “yeah” in triumphant glee. That was Porter at his finest, enjoying his music, his band and his audience by relishing in the moment.

Briana Prevost is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.