“My name is Kandace Springs and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee…” With her introduction sung rather than spoken, from behind a black, grand piano, there’s clearly something of the show woman on stage this evening, although the smooth beats might be more suited to an NYC speakeasy. Along with her own numbers from upcoming debut, Soul Eyes, (“available to preorder now” we’re told twice) she covers Norah Jones and “one of the best songs ever written”, ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Few females have brought jazz to a mainstream market since Jones, but Springs’ has the sort of natural class, alongside a hint of Liane La Havas’ soul-pop style, to be the next to do so.
Likewise, Gregory Porter is undoubtably one of the most successful male solo acts right now, and certainly one of few doing it with all that jazz. With a month-long UK tour starting at the Royal Albert Hall and finishing at Eventim Apollo, the demand for his vocals in all their live glory is undeniable; whether last year’s Disclosure collaboration affected this in any way is difficult to decide, but his solo version of ‘Holding On’ opens the show, and while it’s his name in lights, his band take turns to take centre stage. Breaking tradition he introduces those on stage before the second song rather than the last one, perhaps ensuring that their importance is acknowledged, and with enthusiastic applause following each solo break they’re far from ignored.
“This is the centre of the world,” he informs the crowd, his speaking voice laid back and smooth as if he was presenting a night of his own music for a jazz show on the wireless, “you could have been anywhere.” And from the centre Porter takes us around his influences, from the bluesy beats of ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ to ‘Hey Laura’ – where the lights dim to pink and Porter tips his toes to reach the higher notes. ‘Musical Genocide’ allows the band to pay their respects to Prince, simply working his name into the title, while a cover of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ sees the band’s funk turned up a couple of notches, lead by a extended bass-only intro before drums by a man in shades who clearly thinks in beats join.
A hum of approvals travels across the audience as Porter hits his deepest notes during ‘Liquid Spirit’, before ‘Take Me To The Alley’, the title track to his latest album, switches to epic, and ‘1960 What?’ bizarrely, but quite fittingly, ends on a high note. On the day Beyoncé’s set list is announced (with 30 songs featured), there’s something classic about the handful of Gregory Porter tracks given the chance to shine in this live setting, as ivory tinkles, drums are brushed and organs swirl to stretch out these modern jazz classics.