So after 2 albums of Jazz-influenced acoustic music, the Portico Quartet change their line-up and shift their direction. The question of course, is where to? But it's difficult to pin down and I still detect an element of improvisation, although it's a million miles from straight ahead Jazz.
The first 4 or 5 tracks embrace electronics, sampling and sequencing. The Jazzy elements are disguised, with less prominence to Soprano Sax and the sound of plucked Double Bass.
There is a tendency to set up a repetitive sequenced "hang" or other keyboard sample - this is synchronised with synthetic drum sounds, that were completely absent on the first two albums. After all - if you have a really good virtuoso drummer in the band - why do you need programmed drums? This gives the casual listener something to hang onto, but may deter Jazz fans.
The suspicion is that the band are turning their back on Jazz audiences and looking to attract people who would prefer DJ music in clubs. The sounds are intriguing and hypnotic. They could provide the soundtrack to an up-market, atmospheric thriller - but I suspect the real test will be seeing how the group approach this music live on stage. Will they veer into Free improv. territory or look to get the audience dancing to their programmed beats?
This is a direction that has been taken in European Jazz circles with artists like Nils Petter Molvaer and the sound has a quality that comes from an understanding of real instruments and a lot of playing. There is more interest than in most repetitive dance music.
"Sleepless" is where we veer most markedly away from Jazz and into trip-hop territory and could have appeared on a Massive Attack album, with no incongruity. In fact, the most apt description I could think of was that this album is like Massive Attack meets a European Jazz group - which is not altogether an unpleasant thought - for myself especially, being a fan of both that band and European Jazz.
All in all, this is interesting stuff and I will be fascinated to see how they progress - maybe a "work in progress" - but worth checking out, none the less.