By Gareth Thomas
Regarding his influences, Gregory Porter says “It’s only natural that I go to the root of my inspiration and where I come from. And that root would be my mother and gospel music and Nat King Cole”. As a result of this, Porter’s latest album, Nat “King” Cole and Me, is a tribute to one such inspiration.
As in earlier albums, Porter’s soulful and powerful voice comes through clearly on this new Blue Note release, supported by beautiful orchestral arrangements by Vince Mendoza and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony – heard best on Smile and Quizas Quizas Quizas. The instrumentation is stripped down on other tracks like Sweet Lorraine and L-O-V-E, proving much more reminiscent of the Nat King Cole Trio. On the latter track, Blue Note’s Terrence Blanchard delivers a bright trumpet solo as Bobby Bryant had famously done on the Cole original.
As expected of a tribute album, Nat “King” Cole and Me consists largely of cover songs, with the exception of Porter’s own I Wonder Who My Daddy Is. Mendoza’s orchestral arrangement brings a new layer of sorrow to this melancholic song from 2014’s Liquid Spirit.
Nat “King” Cole and Me has faced some criticism for understating Cole’s jazz trio format and instead indulging in an excessively showbiz vibe. In light of the characteristically cinematic scores, one can understand this complaint, but it seems somewhat arbitrary since, for Porter, “this is not imitation, it’s a tribute to Nat”.
Gregory Porter, with the help of Vince Mendoza and the Hollywood Studio Symphony, has delivered a series of songs that are enjoyable and no doubt accessible to his large audience.