March 2, 2012
Live: Portico Quartet @ York Hall, London. 29.02.2012
In its standard guise, the cavernous York Hall in Bethnal Green is a boxing venue; the resplendent, 1920s veneer of its walls and balconies having stood witness to the sweat and the fear of many a bout in their time. What better place, then, to stage a performance by a modern jazz quartet who dabble in electronica, and who, after the release of their recent third album, have fully matured into a frightening live beast ready to deliver their progressive new sound to a capacity crowd.
That third album, Portico Quartet’s self-titled coming of age, provides the bedrock of their riveting 75-minute-plus set — perhaps being most conducive to the tight, jazz-infused electronica they now purvey. The urban jazz of earlier material occasionally pokes out its head — most notably on expanded versions of ‘Dawn Patrol’ and ‘Clipper’ from transitional second album Isla — and the foursome still occasionally take the time to demonstrate their considerable chops, but the complete exclusion of any tracks from Mercury-nominated debut Knee Deep In The North Sea fully underlines the group’s forward-thinking nature.
With double bass player Milo Fitzpatrick serenely holding court centre stage, drummer Duncan Bellamy performs rhythmical acrobatics in coaxing blips and samples from a selection of knobs, buttons and drums machines in front of him, sometimes ordaining to hit his kit too. Sax player Jack Wyllie, despite losing an instrument to theft at a recent Madrid date, periodically transitions between blowing the incessantly catchy melodies of ‘Spinner’ and filling in with subtle keyboard work, while Keir Vine is charged with hang duties — the inverted wok-shaped tuned percussion instrument that was once so crucial to the Portico Quartet sound now takes on a more harmonic role in the group’s more rhythm-based workouts.
And it’s these workouts that truly amaze. The minimal, brooding of ‘4096 Colours’ from the new album is transformed live into a stunning exercise in mesmeric IDM, its intricate arrangement forming the fulcrum of a set that manages to fit in contemplative ambience (‘Window Seat’), Bonobo-inflected beats (‘Ruins’), and polyrhythmic slow-builds (‘City Of Glass’).
So confident in their abilities are they that even an unnamed piece written in rehearsal the previous day — centred around a cyclic hang phrase and a healthy reliance on intuitive improvisation — doesn’t let up with the intensity. Sultry vocalist Cornelia, fresh from a nervy looking solo set of her own, reappeared for an encore of the delicate ‘Steepless’ from the new album — her performance infinitely more confident and alluring this time around.
It’s a faultless set: a proficient expansion of the group’s recent studio work. Portico Quartet aren’t just knocking on the door of experimental dance music, they are leading it in new and exciting directions.
Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON