Portico Quartet – Isla Portico Quartet – Isla

Portico Quartet - Isla

Portico Quartet - Isla

London four piece (no kidding) Portico Quartet were first nudged into the spotlight last year, with “Knee Deep In The North Sea” earning a Mercury Music Prize nomination. It was chipper, optimistic sounding jazz, but safe jazz. No Herbie Hancock style time changes or ten minute long freakouts À la Bitches Brew. It was very much Sim City music.

Whilst needless to say they didn’t win, (being nominated along with Radiohead, Elbow and Burial was never going to yield results) it did inspire a certain type of Starbucks drinker and occasional IKEA shopper to check them out, which is after all a good thing. Portico Quartet do sound quite different to anything else out there, even though they may not be particularly exciting. This sound was partly due to the chipper, flowing atmosphere that they managed to create, and also due to their party instrument- a “Hang” (essentially a less Jamaican sounding steel drum) .

So onto album number two- Isla. It’s a lot more serious than Knee Deep…. – the album art will tell you as much-dark and sombre disjointed colours. The atmosphere the second time around is also decidedly more gloomy – perhaps due to new producer John Leckie (who has also worked with Radiohead). “The Visitor” demonstrates this perfectly; the hang is now being used as a steady, reserved instrument and not being allowed to dominate as it was previously. The sax work is also pretty sterling as well- a particular mention goes to “Dawn Patrol” for its dual combo of sensational jazz and double bass work. The inclusion of a new found dark and gloomy aura is perhaps best combined with the group’s fantastic technical skill on “Clipper”, arguably where it all comes together for the quartet. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. “ Life Mask” starts off eerily before developing into a wonderfully understated piano and hang piece, displaying a degree of thought and wistfulness that really is miles away from anything on Knee Deep In The North Sea.

It’s a worthwhile piece of work, but it is still on the safe side. The band are forced to rely on atmosphere to invite the listener back again and again, because there simply are no moments of improvisation here for the purists. Another slight niggle for those with short attention spans is the difficulty in picking out any firm favourites, it really is meant to be listened to in its entirety. Then again, if you’ve a short attention span you’re probably not listening to jazz.
Guest musicians might have helped spice things up a little here (I could have said ‘jazz things up a little’, but it would have been inexcusable) or perhaps even a guest vocalist. It’s still an engaging listen, though, and one that you’ll enjoy whenever you hear it playing. This definitely isn’t Sim City music anymore.

Track Listing:
1. Paper Scissors Stone
2. The Visitor
3. Dawn Patrol
4. Line
5. Life Mask (Interlude)
6. Clipper
7. Life Mask
8. Isla
9. Shed Song (Improv No 1)

Portico Quartet - Isla, reviewed by Lemon on 2009-11-06T14:42:19-08:00 rating 3.4 out of 5

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