PORTICO QUARTET: Isla (Label: Real World)


I had the good fortune of witnessing the excellent Portico Quartet at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival earlier this year. Of course, anyone who’s seen or heard the East London-based group will know that their music can’t be comfortably pigeon-holed as jazz – not in the orthodox sense at any rate. As this new album – their second to date and the follow-up to their Mercury Music Prize-nominated debut, ‘Knee Deep In The North Sea’ – illustrates, there are jazz elements, certainly, in the group’s sound but they are married with other influences to produce something wholly unclassifiable. A key component of the group’s sound is their use of an obscure metal tuned percussion instrument called a Hang – it produces a sound like a muted gamelan gong (it looks like a miniature flying saucer) and has an important role (rhythmically, melodically and texturally) in relation to the group’s sonic identity. It’s the use of that distinctive instrument (played by Nick Mulvey) that succeeds in giving the group’s music a haunting, otherworldly sound. It’s complemented by some expressive sax playing by Jack Wyllie, while drummer Duncan Bellamy (who also doubles as a pianist) and bassist Milo Fitzpatrick provide a free-flowing rhythmic undertow that suits the group’s lengthy cinematic soundscapes. Stand out tracks include ‘The Clipper,’ the dreamily blissful ‘Line,’ ‘Dawn Patrol’ and the memorable opener, ‘Paper Scissors Stone.’ In essence, what the Portico Quartet creates is high quality, evocative mood music – the type worthy of being used as movie soundtracks. Indeed, ‘Isla’ with its iridescent tonal hues and the way the tracks interlock in a cohesive way, is very much like a soundtrack album. Strikingly different and well worth investigating by jazz fans that have an intrepid streak.
(CW) 4/5