Review: Portico Quartet, Norwich

GARRY BOOTH finds that the wayward, groove-based improvisers of the first two albums have retreated into monophonic anaesthesia

Portico QuartetPortico Quartet will be seen by some as heading for the jazz exit door with their new, eponymously titled album. Their first two albums, wayward, groove-based improvisations, were refreshingly out there: they made Portico sound like a group of monks from Bhutan who did their devotions listening to John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Jan Garbarek records.

The group's new sound is heavily beats driven and, perhaps because the group's original hang player has left, the ringing percussion has taken a back seat to drum pads and laptop. While many may lament this retreat into the comfortably numb world of post-jazz, or post-rock, it does mean a new audience for the group.

This much was evident at Norwich Arts Centre on Friday 9 March, where a capacity crowd of largely young people stood to hear the guys run through their new set. (When they last appeared here, to present the second, superb album Isla it was an acoustic concert attended by a sitting down audience.)

The arts centre, a former church, doesn't have the right acoustic for a very loud, low frequency gig and so Portico's sound was ill-defined and oppressive as a result. That's not their fault. But the new material, while pleasantly anaesthetising, is monophonic: a heavy comfort blanket of drums and bass.

That the instrumentalists should be overwhelmed by electronica is a pity because they are fine artists. It was frustrating not to hear more of saxophonist Jack Wyllie's bent soprano keening and tenor wailing through the digital fog. Likewise the spontaneity of double bassist Milo Fitzpatrick and drummer Duncan Bellamy seemed muted in favour of producing ambient textures and literally sticking with the programme.

The group members even looked a little enervated by the process. Like slaves to the machine, they need setting free again.


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