Portico Quartet are among the best bands in Britain. A bold claim we know but through a career which has now reached its sixth album with the release of the splendid 'Terrain' the band have been both dazzlingly creative and remarkably consistent.
Once fairly squarely a ‘jazz’ band, these days Portico Quartet ally their heritage with an increasingly minimalist and ambient tendency which means that Terrain’s three tracks, clocking in at 39 minutes give the band an opportunity to really stretch out and provide a tour de force exemplar of everything which makes them so special.
The band describe themselves as making ‘widescreen instrumental music’ and on this record the screen is as wide as it’s ever been. One of the beauties of Portico Quartet is that pressing ‘play on an album brings a sound so unmistakeable that it can only be them. That comfort is a real strength and a beauty in these uncertain times. The use of the hang as part of the percussion arsenal of the band remains as central as ever and ushers in the first movement of the album ‘I’, closely followed by the foregrounded cymbal work of Duncan Bellamy. The piece unfurls sumptuously with electronics creating a bed of ambience prior to the introduction of a yearning, sorrowful sounding saxophone melody. Giving themselves a more stretched palette compositionally gives the song plenty of room to breathe and brings real joy. Layer upon layer infuses the piece with real depth.
And it continues this way throughout the album. ‘II’ is built on a single, insistent piano figure and rolling drums. It is perhaps the most ‘driving’ of the three movements here, but it maintains the overall feel of calm which pervades the record. Even as the album draws to a close with rolling toms, a caterwauling saxophone melody and pulsing cymbal crashes, a peaceful control is exuded.
'Terrain' gives us a band at the peak of its powers, confident in its ability, willing to take risks but always delivering. This may be Portico Quartet’s finest album yet.
Words: Haydon Spenceley
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