Mercury-award nominees Portico Quartet began as four bright eyed buskers weaving their own brand of nu-jazz on the Southbank for scratch. Breaking on to the Jazz scene with their distinctive minimal sound and dreamy ‘hang’ (a very rare Swiss instrument that looks much like a Caribbean steel pan), they have clearly evolved through their three studio albums. The most recent of which, Portico Quartet, is a tour de force of electro-jazz fusion which truly bridges the gap between jazz and house music.
As they emerged onto the smoky stage at Manchester’s Gorilla they were all but unrecognizable from the buskers huddled on the pavement of the Southbank just a few years ago. The bassist sawed into his electric double bass with gusto to create a piercing drone that instantly silenced the room. The rest of the band sampled the live bass sound and transformed and layered it into a swelling ambiance.
The first few tracks displayed the band’s recent move to more electronic pastures, using live sampling to create rich sound worlds driven by fat African-influenced beats. Soon the band reverts to more acoustic instruments and the hang provides a colourful and rhythmic backdrop for wild saxophone improvisations.
Up to this point the band had not said a single word, and it was obvious that they preferred to let the music do the talking. As Swedish guest vocalist Cornelia took the stage the band seemed relieved to be temporarily out of the limelight. Cornelia has joined Portico Quartet on tour off the back of recent collaborations with Bonobo and Henry Saiz. As the band slipped into a backing role and Cornelia’s girlish voice screeched over the crowd, I couldn’t help but think: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; the band has come this far without a vocalist and are clearly not used to having to limit their creativity to accommodate an attention-grabbing singer.
Overall, an incredible display of creativity and mediation between instrumental and electronic music, which waned slightly during the three songs that featured Cornelia.