Portico Quartet - Portico Quartet

It’s a forward-thinking game-change which feels rich, warm and – quite simply – astounding.

Label: Real World Records

Rating: 9

Grand statements re how Portico Quartet are indubitably the success-bound new faces of jazz are ostensibly bandied about non-stop whenever they release a new album. Sure, they’ve come a long way: gone are the years and months spent busking outside the National Theatre; auspicious debut ‘Knee-Deep In The North Sea’ was nominated for a Mercury. But the crits’ predictions have never really foretold the truth: follow-up ‘Isla’ passed most of us by and the band has never truly broken down the barrier between jazz and pop. No one really ‘got’ mesmeric post-jazz.

But fast forward to now and the eponymous ‘Portico Quartet’ may have just flouted all that. For what we have here is an album which grabs the zeitgeist but still stays true to its roots: callipygously shuffling, painlessly seguing, mingling the darkest rags ‘n’ bones of dubstep, d ‘n’b and off-kilter jazz, all the while interweaving heck loads of new-found textures and electronics. It’s a forward-thinking game-change which feels rich, warm and – quite simply – astounding.

Fleeting opener ‘Window Seat’ is ambient but not exactly easy on the ear – creaking strings and spectral synths give way to clattering layers of fuzz. It’s spooky and cinematic like a curt Phillip Glass piece but as if its creator was brought up in a world teeming with Oneohtrix Point Nevers and Laurel Halos. Single ‘Ruins’, meanwhile, led by their trademark use of reverberating double bass and hang (the latter a 21st century Swiss-developed tuned steel drum-ish instrument), brings in a Jamie XX beat before a celestial tenor sax line soars high up above. Everything is beaten into a glorious pulp as the tune then climaxes in peals of Colin Stetson-worthy sax squeals.

And there is no subsequent chaff. Every track on this record is a standout, be it the booming bass swings and arpeggiating synths of ‘Spinner’, the 9-minute nuclear cacophony ‘Rubidium’, the croaky, morose narratives of guest vocalist Cornelia on ‘Steepless’ (“at the end of times…”, she ruefully repeats) or the wonky grooves of ‘City Of Glass’. In short – this record is a playful, daring and capricious listen, and one of the first truly remarkable records of 2012.