Portico Quartet Put The Music First at Belgrave, 12.10.18

Portico Quartet like to let the music do the talking. Having been holed up in their home studio writing their forthcoming sixth album, the band have only emerged for fleeting performances in support of April’s Untitled (AITAOA #2), a ‘companion’ album to last year’s Art in The Age of Automation that left listeners feeling a little short-changed. Surveying a half-full Belgrave Music Hall, drummer and band leader Duncan Bellamy allows himself a wry smile performing, plunging headfirst into his band’s jazz-infused electronica. No time for pleasantries.

‘Endless’ is a wise choice for the opener. Bellamy’s drums – a cornerstone on which Portico Quartet is based – crackle and spit their way to a crescendo as Kier Vine’s hang drums makes its first appearance. The hang has long featured in Portico Quartet’s music, a haunting, plaintive piece of percussion that underpins most of the songs that feature tonight. The song feels like a manifesto for Portico Quartet, with the addition of Jack Wylie’s soaring sax and the grounding, determined bass work of Milo Fitzpatrick. It’s a wonderful welcome and is met with an ecstatic response.

Whilst the performance lacks an arc that would befit a band so attuned to their own dynamics, the rest of the show’s ‘best-of’ set-list is enchanting enough to still triumph. Highlights include title tracks ‘Knee-Deep in The North Sea’ and ‘Isla’, two tracks that demonstrate the growth of Portico Quartet from breath-taking buskers on the South Bank to jazz innovators. There is an infectious complexity to the rhythms of ‘Isla’ that prompts little pockets of movement in the audience. This, Portico Quartet can count as a victory: they have long eschewed the head-nodding seriousness of ‘jazz’ audiences and tonight is no exception. By the time the band re-emerge for encore ‘Line’, a grinning, slightly sweaty audience are all-too happy to jump in once more. Portico Quartet might let the music do the talking, but what a beautiful language they speak.

William Rees-Arnold

Header image via Portico Quartet