Review of Portico Quartet Album by Portico Quartet

The Mercury nominated jazz quartet from London have never been shy of sounding different and on their third self-titled album, they expand their sound further into the territories they started to explore with Isla. Here is a record breaking through the electric fences that penned them in as nothing more than a very good jazz band and proving that they are in fact simply a very good band.

Portico Quartet Portico Quartet Album

Album opener 'Window Seat' is an ambient whale song that lurks towards you with passionate intent. Its overlapping bleeps and constant keyboards introduce you to a world of strange paradoxical sounds before retreating once more into the ether. It is this retreat which takes Portico Quartet from simply being good to being great. As there is the ever present danger on a record such as this that the songs will simply run along happily colliding into one another; here that is not the case. The quartet successfully drip-feed elements into one another, while creating an entirely different environment for you to revel in.

It's hard to think of a group that has so eloquently maintained the sound that they are recognised by, while completely challenging everything you thought they were. 'Ruins' and 'Spinner' both utilise the heart breaking saxophone and sparse drum beats that immediately have you clicking your fingers and chain smoking; just some of the finer qualities of the Jazz scene. Though where the former opts for a more nightmarish use of a once familiar instrument the latter adopts break beats mixing the clinical precision of the mechanic laptop scene with the free form beauty of the natural. This combination is exactly what the group were aiming to do on this release and the looping of their own instruments means that the soulful sound of reverberating acoustics isn't lost, but multiplied. It's all very technical and all very clever but vitally for the four young men it's all very good when it leaves the machines and makes its way to your ear.

The real standout track on the record though is 'Laker Boo', which takes things up a notch after the interlude of 'Export To Hot Climates'. At eight minutes, the track is a cacophonous voyage through a cold psyche to the depths of outer space and back. The insistently throbbing bass keeps you grounded as waterfalls of melody twinkle in and out before you're gradually edged into a dauntingly and ever more frenetic ambience. The bowed bass is fragile and cracks at the edges while virtually every other instrument you think you're hearing here is somehow geniusly played by the hang. It's cinematic to the point that it's sure to appear in anything by Chris Nolan at some point in the future of cinema. The whole album could be used as a soundtrack to a bleak beautifully shot drama that's as stark as it is striking; '4096 Colours' sounds like it could have been the theme to The Godfather if it has been a futuristic film.

Nearing the end of the record, 'City Of Glass' and its heavy use of a clean plucked stand-up bass at the front of the mix takes things back down the traditional route, as Duncan Bellamy hits his symbols like he's brushing drums; of course, it does have loops and samples that sound as if they've come straight from The XX. It's a reminder of just what these four men have accomplished.

Portico Quartet are on their third album having proved their Jazz credentials, with this record they haven't just changed the face of Jazz but of what it's possible to create with a little experimentation and determination. This record stands apart from its influences to become something the likes of which you've never heard before. Now it seems the quartet have nothing left to prove, merely more terrain to explore.

Lauren Mullineaux

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