Portico Quartet are an instrumental music ensemble from the UK, but nothing about them sounds overtly English. Their sound is comprised of saxophone and auxiliary percussion matched to a conventional rhythm section, yet they are not jazz. Their new album Isla comes to us courtesy of Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, yet any implications of this being considered “world music” feels too broad, generic, and undermining.
Contemporary jazz can be quite the musical conundrum. Jazz, with it’s own heritage, was born from a sense of rebellion - of a need for change. Before any wave of political baiting punk rock, it was an escape and inspiration for many. So, its influence could be necessary in this day and age, of course, but as our musical and artistic forms have evolved, its necessity and overall relevance seems to have depleted.
The East London modern jazz outfit Portico Quartet achieves its distinctive sound from an instrument barely older than the band itself. Percussionist Nick Mulvey’s hang (pronounced “hung”) is a white whale for drummers all over the world. Invented in 2000, the drums are forged by hand by two Swiss artists who have a rumored waitlist of five years for new orders.
Having invented a unique and very catchy ensemble tone around minimalist loops-music and the melodiously tuned Hang Drum, 2008 Mercury-nominees Portico Quartet have had to juggle adherence to their signature sound with the pressure to branch out. They're now touring the UK with this repertoire, which reflects their growing stature by being recorded at Abbey Road, and by sometime Radiohead producer John Leckie. For Portico fans, there's plenty of business as usual with characteristically pulsating Hang grooves and Milo Fitzpatrick's softly prodding bass vamps underpinning Jack Wyllie's sax patterns.
A second Mercury nomination shouldn’t be out of the question. Chris Parkin 2009 With all the jibber-jabber that surrounds the Mercury Prize each year it seems certain the winners will be propelled into the pop stratosphere, but taking first prize doesn’t always make it so. Just look at the experience of 2009’s victor: Speech Debelle’s gigs are no busier and LP sales are still at a trickle, suggesting Joe Public pays less attention to the annual prize-giving than is generally thought.