Portico Quartet | World music review

Koko, London

Known for playing intimate clubs and village halls, Portico Quartet have no trouble filling this famous rock dive. The venue is packed, and the set begins dramatically, with a repeated pulse from Nick Mulvey's melodious hang drum and Milo Fitzpatrick's double bass, shadowed against back-projected artwork from their new album, Isla. Saxophonist Jack Wyllie and drummer Duncan Bellamy join in, adding heat and intensity.

But the group don't build their music like a rock band, with volume and big gestures. Nor do they sprawl like jazzers, with themes and long solos. Rather, they have the manner of an African or Indian ensemble generating a mood. They are British, though, and their moods are more folky than funky, more rural than urban. They achieve this through a subtle interplay of elements, such as Wyllie's electronic loops and Fitzpatrick's range of techniques: his bass is a constantly changing source of instrumental colour. The crowd respond enthusiastically – everyone knows the language, in which sound texture is as important as melody and rhythm.

The music comes unstuck when it veers too close to straight jazz, as in the freak-out in Knee Deep in the North Sea or the drum solo in Clipper. Bellamy's sustained, restrained coda to Line is far more effective. The group can sound almost classical at times, with Wyllie's pure-toned sax singing high above their shimmering Steve Reich-like patterns, but the compositions have an organic, evolved nature that's closer to traditional music or post-rock – Tortoise or the Chicago Underground Quartet.

Yet Portico Quartet have their own unique sound, owing to Mulvey's mbira-like hang, the pulsing heart of every number. It's world music, for sure – and the crowd is gleefully proud that it hails from our part of the world.


John L Walters

The GuardianTramp

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