Portico Quartet at Archspace
Amidst wires spewing off the stage, illuminated by blue and yellow strobe lights, experimental jazz outfit Portico Quartet come on stage. Nestled in a narrow alleyway in London’s Haggerston, they are performing the first of their four-night sold-out stint at the Archspace, an intimate setting for the band, providing a stripped-down venue for their raw performance.
Playing the first song of the evening, Endless, off the forthcoming album, Art in the Age of Automation, the quartet instantly become immersed in their array of instruments – double bass/bass guitar, Hang/keyboard, tenor/soprano saxophone and, last but not least, the drums. A range of mixers and modifiers including MPCs and KAOSS pads accompany the instruments, producing samples and manipulating sounds, constructing a cacophony of complex compositions, something the musicians shine at. The chain on the cymbals hisses, while the soprano sax soothes the deeper tones of the double bass. The unusual presence of the hang mimics the sound of steel pans, resonating in the hollow chambers of the venue.
One can discern the immense concentration on their faces, the bass player closing his eyes, nodding in time with the music, which is not only ambient, but has a strong dance influence. Although abstract, the music is accessible, as it dips its jazz feet into down tempo house music, reminiscent of the likes of Radiohead’s I Might be Wrong recordings and James Blake. Mixing the old with the new, Portico Quartet are a band who give jazz a refreshing twist in today’s music scene. Nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2008 for their debut album, Knee-deep in the North Sea, they proved to be an ensemble with an exciting future ahead. After a quarter of the group left, they became Portico from 2014 to 2016, experimenting with new genres and collaborating with various vocal artists and DJs such as Jamie Woon and Alt-J’s Joe Newman.
Ruins, off their self-titled third album soon follows, the booming double bass strumming to a whole new beat. The stage set mimics a practising studio, all band members facing each other, bodies held with an intense focus, mirroring that of an orchestra. Though voiceless, nothing seems amiss, with the instruments an integral part of their act.
The elongated outros of tracks such as Current History and Line create a feeling of drifting away, the soft acoustics of the Hang building an atmosphere of calm, the drum kit echoing as crashing waves. The Visitor, from second album Isla, is a gentle addition to the setlist. On encore the musicians perform Laker Boo, an audience favourite, with the sax player joining the keyboardist over the off-kilter drums and bass. Through tonight’s incredible set, they have shown their continued strength in producing elaborate musical compositions, marking them as a solid modern jazz group. Quiet moments coupled with danceable climactic beats make Portico Quartet a band of ingenious musical integrity.
Photos: Erol Birsen
For further information and future events visit the Portico Quartet website here.
Watch the video for Ruins here: