Since 2005, the Portico Quartet has created a singular, cinematic sound that melds jazz, electronica, ambient music, and minimalism. At the lead edge of South London’s nu-jazz movement, theiur debut album 2007′s Knee Deep in the North Sea was shortlisted for a Mercury Prize. Subsequent outings included albums for Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records. They temporarily slimmed to an issued they the album Living Fields on Ninja Tune. Subsequently returning to their quartet lineup, they released 2017′s Art in the Age of Automation for Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana label.
Formed in 2005, the band was initially inspired to play via founding member Duncan Bellamy’s purchase of an exotic yet contemporary instrument, the Hang, at a music festival. The Hang, invented in 2000 in Switzerland, is a metallic lap drum with clamped shells, the melodious sound of which resembles both a steel drum and Balinese metallaphone. Where the quartet’s influences clearly reference modern jazz and African music, the trance-like sonics of the Hang draw closer comparisons to minimalists Philip Glass and Steve Reich, or gamelan music. A weekly session at the South Bank and residency at the Brixton Ritzy earned them a cult following. It also inspired London’s premier jazz club, the Vortex, to start a record label to release their music.
Championed by archivist and historian/mixer Gilles Peterson, the Portico Quartet’s debut release, Knee Deep in the North Sea, was acclaimed as jazz, folk, and world music Album of the Year for 2007 by Time Out magazine, and was a Mercury Music Prize honoree for 2008. With Jack Wylie on soprano saxophone, Milo Fitzpatrick on acoustic bass, and Nick Mulvey and Duncan Bellamy playing the Hang and percussion instruments, the group’s modern contemporary sound was favorably compared to the diverse, ethnic-flavored work of Ben Allison, E.S.T., and the Cinematic Orchestra.
Following their signing to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records, the Portico Quartet released its sophomore effort. Isla appeared in 2009 and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios. In 2011 Mulvey left the band to pursue a solo career — to be replaced by Keir Vine — and his departure signaled a musical shift for the group. Their self-titled third record favored electronic sounds over the predominantly acoustic style of their previous efforts. The band experienced its largest transformation to date in 2014 as Vine departed, and the slimmed-down trio signed to the Ninja Tune label. They re-christened themselves Portico and pursued experimental pop in lieu of the jazz influence of their earlier records. However, for their 2017 record Art in the Age of Automation, they reverted to their original label and moniker, and were reunited with Vine. The foilowing year, they issued the companion outing Untitled (AITAOA #2), recorded during the Art In the Age Of Automation sessions. For 2019′s Memory Streams–also on Gondwana– Portico Quartet mined their catalogue to re-combine older sounds and musics with new ones including elements of prog-rock and abstract electronic soundscapes. ~ Michael G. Nastos