It’s not that Gregory Porter hasn’t put his stamp on standards. Seven years into his reign as arguably the most impressive new voice in jazz, Porter has included exquisite readings of, among others, “Skylark,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “God Bless the Child” across various albums. But far greater emphasis has been placed on his exceptional compositions, ranging from sage sociopolitical commentary to deeply personal tales of love, loss and spirituality.
Fittingly, Porter’s long affection for Nat “King” Cole provides the foundation for his first full-length exploration of pop and jazz classics. That Porter and Cole are kindred spirits is undeniable: both warm, enthralling baritones; both blessed with tremendous, infectious charm. It is Porter’s first album featuring full and mighty orchestral accompaniment, with an ace rhythm section—pianist Christian Sands, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., plus guest trumpeter Terence Blanchard—backed on most tracks by the London Studio Orchestra under the deft direction of Vince Mendoza.
Porter hinted at his lifelong admiration of Cole when he included the moving “When Love Was King” on 2013’s Liquid Spirit. It is reimagined here, the album’s sole original, with equal ardour and added lushness. The balance of the 12 selections (15 on the deluxe edition), span Cole’s entire vocal career. All of the performances—from the mystical rapture of “Nature Boy” and the shadowy stealth of “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” to a featherlight “Sweet Lorraine” (sans orchestra), an ebullient “L-O-V-E” and a swirling “Ballerina”—are distinctively magical.