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For Your Consideration: Portico Quartet - 'Portico Quartet'

Jon Wertheim
Staff Writer
jon.wertheim@gmail.com / @rtbjazz

It's processed. It's ambitious. It's not exactly jazz - or dance music, or pop, or hip hop. It's like Kneebody on Ritalin, or Kenny G with chest hair and an attitude.

And is it good? Yes. Yes, it is.

Portico Quartet, the British group composed of Jack Wyllie (saxophones), Duncan Bellamy (drums), Milo Fitzpatrick (bass), and Keir Vine (keyboard/hang), has an unusual lineup and an unusual aesthetic, one that is showcased admirably on Portico Quartet, their third record. Just as British hip hop often has more electronica and dance influences than its American counterpart, British and European jazz-- or what we critics like to naïvely label jazz-- is likely to show less soul, rap and hard-bop influence and more indie rock and techno lineage, and that's very much in evidence here, from the echoing reverb of "4096 Colours" to the skittering beat of "City of Glass".

Not to limit the field too much, "Rubidium," the hypnotic fourth track of Portico Quartet, is reminiscent of the shifting polyrhythms of Steve Reich's drumming (an effect enhanced by the sound of the Hang (an instrument not unlike an upside-down steel drum); "Ruins" has a driving beat taken straight from the Esbjörn Svensson playbook; and Jack Wyllie's tenor and soprano saxophones often sound strikingly like the work of ECM artist Jan Garbarek (see "Spinner," the third track of the album).

In short, there's a lot here, sometimes too much (I had to take quite a few breaks as I worked my way through). The sound is heavily processed and deeply layered, often sounding as if the group was recording with a single mic in an empty warehouse or a church. All the better. If Portico can make an album that can appeal to broad range of tastes, all while keeping their artistic integrity intact and making the listener work hard in the process, more power to them.

This is the first CD review put out by Nextbop, and I can think of no better way to recommend this album to our readers than to say that Portico Quartet is emblematic of what this site and its writers stand for. It's made by young musicians from outside the U.S. using a broad range of sounds and methods to create beautiful, enjoyable music. It's records like this one that are opening doors for the next generation of jazz musicians, and for generations after that. And whether or not the actual music strikes your fancy, that's something everyone should be able to appreciate. Highly recommended.

Jon Wertheim, a jazz drummer and (somewhat) acclaimed jazz writer, can be found at his jazz blog, Rehearsing The Blues, and on Twitter. He has released one album, Returning.