All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

412

Portico Quartet: Knee Deep In The North Sea

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Portico Quartet are currently le dernier cri in London—awards nominations, MTV sync deals and top-end TV and radio sessions are being thrown their way like confetti. Knee Deep In The North Sea is the quartet's debut album and it proves to be great stuff, deserving of much of the media cavalcade.



Portico's USP is the inclusion of two hangs in the line-up. Two whats? Invented in the late 1990s by a pair of Swiss-based world music enthusiasts, the hang is a tuned percussion instrument which is a cross between gongs, gamelan and various other drums and bells. It can play up to nine notes tuned around a central deep tone. It looks like an elaborate Chinese cooking implement and sounds like a refined Trinidadian steel drum.



The musicians are young—aged between 20 and 22—and not long out of college, and Portico was originally conceived as a busking group. Their regular pitch was inside London's National Theatre and South Bank Arts Centre complex, a good place to win influential friends if you've got something unusual to offer.



The music, all of it original, is a cross between jazz and modern classical. It's mellifluous, exuberant and jaunty, full of catchy tunes and strong hooks. It's mostly through-written, with relatively little space given to solos (most of these by saxophonist Jack Wyllie), but it swings and has an informal, otherwise indefinable, jazz attitude.



The overall effect is light and feel-good, but it isn't bland. Wyllie from time-to-time essays convincingly, if briefly, into Albert Ayler-esque harmonics and multiphonics; there's a wide dynamic range (most of the tunes are mini-suites, each containing vividly contrasting sections); and the rhythms are sharp. And the hang is tuneful and fun.



The closest comparison, though it isn't an exact one, is perhaps with the late Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The crucial difference is that multi-instrumentalist Simon Jeffes wrote for a wider range of instruments than Portico's saxophone, bass, drums and hangs. Whether Portico would be able to sustain interest over a second album without broadening their line-up is a moot point. Meanwhile, there's plenty to enjoy in Knee Deep In The North Sea.


Track Listing: News From Verona; (Something's Going Down On) Zavodovski Island; Knee Deep In The North Sea; Too Many Cooks; Steps In The Wrong Direction; Monsoon-Top To Bottom; The Kon Tiki Expedition; Cittagazze; Pompidou.

Personnel: Jack Wyllie: soprano and alto saxophone; Milo Fitzpatrick: double bass; Duncan Bellamy: drums and hang; Nick Mulvey: hang.

Title: Knee Deep In The North Sea | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: The Vortex

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Dirt...And More Dirt CD/LP/Track Review
Dirt...And More Dirt
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: May 26, 2018
Read Locked & Loaded CD/LP/Track Review
Locked & Loaded
by John Kelman
Published: May 26, 2018
Read Long Story Short CD/LP/Track Review
Long Story Short
by Jack Bowers
Published: May 26, 2018
Read Awase CD/LP/Track Review
Awase
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: May 26, 2018
Read Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zurich CD/LP/Track Review
Invisible Touch At Taktlos Zurich
by John Sharpe
Published: May 26, 2018
Read My Singing Fingers CD/LP/Track Review
My Singing Fingers
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: May 25, 2018
Read "Just Friends" CD/LP/Track Review Just Friends
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 11, 2017
Read "Dreaming Big" CD/LP/Track Review Dreaming Big
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 12, 2017
Read "Beginnings" CD/LP/Track Review Beginnings
by David A. Orthmann
Published: September 25, 2017
Read "Float Upstream" CD/LP/Track Review Float Upstream
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: September 26, 2017
Read "The Chicago Blues Box 2" CD/LP/Track Review The Chicago Blues Box 2
by Chris Mosey
Published: December 9, 2017
Read "Unloved" CD/LP/Track Review Unloved
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: December 23, 2017