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Portico Quartet at Norwich Arts Centre, UK

Bruce Lindsay By

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Portico Quartet
Norwich Arts Centre
Norwich, UK
November 16, 2009
Portico Quartet is establishing itself at the forefront of the British jazz scene—a young band with a distinctive and recognizable sound that is both immediately accessible and also full of complex patterns and melodies that repay repeated listening. Their first headlining performance at Norwich Arts Centre saw the band play two sets to a packed, and hushed, auditorium.
This date was part of a tour in support of Portico Quartet's second album, Isla (Real World, 2009)—an album that saw the group's sound take on a darker and harder edge than on the Mercury Music Prize nominated Knee Deep In The North Sea (Babel, 2007). Almost from the start of the gig it was clear that this harder edge translates to stage performances as well—at least as far as the music is concerned. The four musicians took to the stage quietly, even self-consciously. They were dressed casually—saxophonist Jack Wylie even sported a chunky white woolly jumper during the first set—and on-stage communication was limited to nods and glances.
Jack Wylie, Duncan Bellamy, Milo Fitzpatrick, Nick Mulvey

But once the music started the musicians took on a much more confident appearance and got straight down to business. All four of the band members played with more drive and certainty than was the case on their previous visit to Norwich. This was particularly true of bassist Milo Fitzpatrick and saxophonist Wylie. Fitzpatrick played some intriguing and complex patterns with surprising power and maintained a suitably intense expression throughout. His bowed bass parts were particularly effective, at times creating a somewhat dark and threatening atmosphere. Wylie looked more relaxed, but his playing was inventive and his soprano solo on "Dawn Patrol" was frenetic.

The Hang remains central to Portico Quartet's sound, and also to their onstage visual appearance. Nick Mulvey played three Hangs: each one sat perched on top of a snare drum stand at the front of the stage while the seated Mulvey played them with mallets. Mulvey's playing was the rhythmic heart of the music, a hypnotic and liquid sound. This central role for the Hang meant that drummer Duncan Bellamy had the freedom to play openly and inventively—his brush work, often with the smallest pair of brushes imaginable, fit exceptionally well with the Hangs.

While the band played one or two songs from their first album, including "Knee Deep in the North Sea," most of the performance featured songs from Isla. A trio of these songs—"Line," a particularly hypnotic tune, "Life Mask" and "Clipper"—formed the centerpiece of the second set. They also briefly featured Wiley playing the Melodica, while he additionally made most effective use of looping on a plaintive and languid "Life Mask," one of the night's most beautiful songs.

Mulvey took on the job of communicating with the audience, picking up a hand-held microphone every three or four songs to announce the titles and introduce the band members. His enthusiasm and openness were engaging, helping to build rapport with the audience. After an encore, the band left the stage and moved to the venue's foyer, where they stayed to chat to audience members and sign CDs. Portico Quartet showed that they can deliver an entire night of music with power, inventiveness and skill—their momentum continues to build.


Photo credit
Bruce Lindsay

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