Review of Isla Album by Portico Quartet

Review of Portico Quartet's album Isla released through Real World Records

Portico Quartet Isla Album

A few years back, I remember getting into a heated discussion in a bar with this guy about the merits of Miles Davis. Now before anyone starts accusing me of committing sacrilege, let's not get too carried away here. Sure, Davis was a true innovator in his own field, a genuinely groundbreaking musician in many ways, but genius? Nah, definitely not. The man could improvise no doubt, but unfortunately his style influenced a million freeform jazz noodlers in wine bars and sidestreet cafes all around the world. Art without heart, jazz to these ears is an excuse for mindless self-indulgence with no greater purpose than to inflict endless hours of boredom on those unlucky enough to find themselves in the vicinity of one of these musicians. Having disclosed my arguments against the legacy of Miles Davis, we both agreed to disagree and go our separate ways, peacefully.

London jazz ensemble Portico Quartet obviously owe a massive debt to the likes of Davis and his ilk. While they tend to use the expression 'modern jazz' to describe their sound, its roots quite clearly lie around the concept of 'Bitches Brew' and its meandering diligence. Having initially started life as buskers around the underground stations and theatres of the capital, Portico Quartet eventually landed a record deal after blagging their way onto the London Jazz Festival a couple of years ago, culminating in a 2008 Mercury Music Prize nomination for their first long player, 'Knee-deep In The North Sea'. While many cynics - me included - would argue this to be nothing more than the token jazz entry for such an award, it would be unfair to simply label the band as traditionalists simply echoing their heroes. Indeed their mainly percussion-heavy sound could be compared to the more doom-laden spectre of post-rock in a perverse way. Certainly their employment of rarely used percussive instrument the hang sets them apart from most of their contemporaries, and at least gives them a reputable claim to bestow themselves with the tag 'cutting edge'; of sorts at least.

'Isla' then, the follow up to their 2007 debut, isn't a departure as such from 'Knee-deep.' and its contemporary themes. Recorded with esteemed producer John Leckie at the legendary Abbey Road studios, Portico Quartet haven't spared any expenses in creating their second record. Throughout its nine instrumental and occasionally improvised pieces, their dexterity and dedication to their craft shouldn't be underestimated, while the sheer perfectionism involved in making music of this distinction takes an immeasurable degree of patience as well.

That said, its unlikely that 'Isla' will win them many converts to their cause, as despite the unnervingly disjunctive 'Paper Scissors Stone' and aloof 4x4 time signatures of 'Line' and 'Clipper' that aren't in all honesty a million miles away from beat-heavy experimentalists like Don Caballero, it's a record that is purely for jazz enthusiasts or budding musicians of a similar persuasion.


Dom Gourlay

Official Site -