Review

PORTICO QUARTET Isla

Album · 2009 · Nu Jazz
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4/5 ·
Sean Trane
Second album from a group that holds a special place in this writer’s heart, since in early 07 he discovered the group playing live on London’s River Thames left bank on a Sunday afternoon amongst the dozen of street artistes developing their crafts. The group played all afternoon half-hour sets, resting the other half-hour, thus allowing me to wander and discovering mimes, clowns, other musicians etc... and come back to catch another earful of their music, and buying the then-brand-new album. For those who are not familiar, this four-man crew (betcha you’d know that much ;o) has a very special all-instrumental edge since they feature the rare Swiss-made “Hang drums” (actually two of them during the afternoon I saw them), which is sort of closed double-wok hollow-metal tuned-percussion instrument, struck with soft mallets and sound-wise resembling those Caribbean steel drums, but can often be sounding to a piano if played correctly.

Their second album, recorded in may 09 at Abbey Studios and released in early 10 and dressed in a all cardboard geometric artwork similar to Elephant9 or Tunng’s, features only one Hang drum player (Mulvey), which is a wise decision, because the last thing you’d want is to overdose the listener with a no-matter-what-you-say limited percussion instrument. I was afraid that this second effort would be a tad too much of a carbon copy of their debut, but I was relatively quickly put at ease, because the group’s composition and aptitudes have progressed exponentially, even if the group can’t erase their debut album’s heritage from your mind. Indeed their jazz-influenced instrumental fusion has risen to another depth (can’t use the word sunken, here;o)) mainly due to the communal songwriting, but also hiring a four-man string section, although their presence is relatively discreet.

Mulvey’s Hang drum banging (sorta speak;o)) is again superbly up front in many tunes, but you never get tired of it, because the way it’s played, it could be (almost) mistaken for a piano, despite the fact that the other percussionist (and real drummer) also diddles the keys of a real piano when heeded. Jack Willie’s sax is the other indisputable star on Isla, often reminiscent of a gentle Coltrane, often enhanced by Fitzpatrick’s contrabass, which can lead you into the illusion of the Garrison-Trane link (most notably on Clipper, one of my fave), especially once Mulvey’s Hang drum takes slight Tyner-esque shades. But the fusion has a real progressive edge, partly due to Bellamy’s excellent drumming and time-keeping. Dawn Patrol is simply awesome in a late-night crowning promenade, just a stroll on the beach of melody. Line is more of a Surman-esque new-agey ECM-type of fusion

Just as good as their debut album, but the surprise is now gone, Isla is one of those superb prog album that you can easily use to cuddle up and get cute with your partner without risking her annoyance at your otherwise “weird & bizarre” music.

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Fant0mas wrote:
25 days ago
My girlfriend made me discover this one :P It's really cool to have a musician GF! Great album!
more than 2 years ago
Excellent album huh? And isn't 'Clipper' fantastic - quite jealous that you got to see them live, Sean, would have loved that

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