Portico Quartet make deeply entrancing music that combines jazz, electronic and ambient styles. Signed to Manchester’s Gondwana Records, they are comparable to label mates Mammal Hands and Gogo Penguin in the way that their music takes you on a real journey. This journey is especially absorbing in a live setting, where the band shine. One of our top picks this month is thus Portico Quartet’s gig at Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds, on the 12 October.
The band met in 2005 whilst studying at university in London. They released their debut album, Knee-Deep in the North Sea, two years later. It was characterised by hypnotic soprano saxophone melodies, trance-inducing grooves and – their signature sound – the hang drum. The album earned the band a Mercury Prize nomination, alongside Radiohead, Robert Plant and Elbow.
Over the course of their next two albums – Isla and the eponymous Portico Quartet – the band expanded their cinematic sound palette to include more electronic textures. The result was a slightly grittier sound that reflected the myriad influences and music makers that surrounded them in the country’s capital. The popular ‘Ruins’ is among the best of these urban-tinted tracks.
After the departure of hang drum player Keir Vine, the band spent a couple of years as a trio, focussing on a different, more electronic project that they called Portico. Released on Ninja Tune, their 2015 album Living Fields featured guest vocal artists Jono McCleery, Jamie Woon and alt-J’s Joe Newman. There are some really beautiful moments on this record, with tracks ‘101’ and ‘Bright Luck’ shining particularly brightly.
Returning to Gondwana and reuniting with Keir Vine, Portico Quartet returned to their roots for 2017’s Art in the Age of Automation. Once again bathed in the glowing warmth of the hang drum, these hypnotic tracks seduce in a similar way to those on the band’s first album. Opener Endless is a particular highlight. It’s an ambient jazz stunner, whose lush electronics, gorgeous string arrangements and hypnotic hang drum patterns keep you coming back for more.
One album wasn’t enough to contain all of Portico Quartet’s ideas though, and so earlier this year, the band released Untitled (AITAOA #2). Featuring tracks that didn’t quite make it onto Art in the Age of Automation, the strength of this record is testament to the incredibly fertile creative place that the band currently occupies. With that in mind, it seems that now is the time to watch them perform live. You can do just that on the 12 October, at Belgrave Music Hall.