thu 06/08/2020

Portico Quartet, The Komedia, Brighton | reviews, news & interviews

Portico Quartet, The Komedia, Brighton

Portico Quartet, The Komedia, Brighton

London foursome sucessfully meld jazz to some intense electronic sounds

Bassist Milo Fitzpatrick and drummer/synth whizz Duncan Bellamy whip up complex tech-jazz Photos © Lydia Perrysmith

I do not envy the Portico Quartet’s stage manager. The Komedia stage is not very big and most of it is covered in wire, effects boxes, electronic gizmos and other units. Amidst this carnage of cables, before the band arrives on stage, stands laptop DJ, Flying White Dots (aka Bryan Whellams), DJ Rob Da Bank’s “favourite bootleg mashup artist” (so Whellams' business card later tells me). He entertains the milling studenty crowd with his alternative versions of Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel, America and others, as well as Angelo Badalamenti’s grinding "The Pink Room" from the Twin Peaks film.

porticoPortico Quartet are an unassuming-looking bunch. They arrive on stage and ensconce themselves at their stations. Only saxophonist Jack Wylie (pictured left) appears to have any freedom of movement - his bandmates are as surrounded by banks of technology as starship fighters in a low-budget Star Wars rip-off. Sadly they don’t look like starfighters; they look like geography students on dress-down Wednesday. Which is a shame because, with a performance so studied yet entertaining, they could do with a bit of visual pizzazz as counterpoint, something to say, as the music often does, that, hey, as well as being complex and sonically intriguing this is fun. They do, however, have flavoursome mood lighting and a black backdrop pinpricked with white lights, like a cabaret night sky.

Portico Quartet, a London band, first appeared on the radar due to a Mercury Music Prize nomination for their 2007 debut album Knee-Deep in the North Sea. They have since established themselves as the jazz band who can whip up a festival crowd, who can veer in tone, if not directly in content, well into electronica and rock territory. Their eponymous recent album, their third, is their most interesting and fulfilling, to my ears, as it further embraces their electronic leanings.

It’s from this they draw most of tonight’s set. Drummer Duncan Bellamy appears to lead the fray, spending as much time jacking synths into action as playing the drums while Wylie, swapping between soprano and tenor sax, and Milo Fitzpatrick, on electronic double bass, replete with attached quiver of bows, both add subtle melody and texture. The other reason Portico Quartet are sometimes known outside their immediate circle of fans is their use of the hang, a flying saucer-shaped, recently invented percussive instrument. But again, hang-player Keir Vine spends as much time at his electronic boxes as his hangs.


The set starts off in cool, ambient soundtrack territory but soon gains pace. Tunes such as “Window Seat” and “Spinner” lay out the stall but then “4096 Colours”, with its drum & bass percussion, hits home like a noise-storm by comparison. From there the band is all out, creating a music that is both precise but impressively energetic, never kowtowing to dance music’s predictable 4/4 but instead rhythmically weaving patterns and causing the crowd to wriggle and whoop in approval. As the set progresses the sound I’m hearing is reminiscent not so much of jazz as Detroit techno artists such as Terrence Parker who spent the Nineties investigating a more soulful, melodic path for their city’s famed music style. Portico dispatch most of the new album with focus and serious-faced concentration. They drop in only a couple from previous albums, but no one minds.

This is where I have a confession. Music journalists should never leave a gig before the end. I have done so extremely rarely. We’re all haunted by the stories such as the occasion copy was filed midway through one of Whitney Houston’s final UK gigs, praising her wonderful singing, but the writer in question had left before the notorious broken version of “I Will Always Love You” that made the next day’s front pages. No, it’s better to be safe than sorry but, on this occasion, as the band returned for their encore I was called unavoidably away, and presumed I was safe in the assumption that Portico Quartet would continue in the same vein and not bring on Robert Plant for a jam.

The next morning I rang their PR. Plant did not appear but I had missed the small scoop of Cornelia Dahlgren arriving onstage to sing the only vocal tune of the night, “Steepless”, before the foursome closed with “Dawn Patrol” from the second album Isla. I may have missed this – for shame – but what I did catch was a band whose technical aptitude was matched by an ability to woo a crowd with music that’s complex, sinuous and subtle.

Watch the video for "Ruins" by Portico Quartet


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