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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 19 October 2009
After being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize last year Portico Quartet have had some good exposure for their atmospheric brand of modern jazz. `Isla' then is their second album filled with more beautifully atmospheric tracks, each perfectly described by its title. Opener `Paper Scissors Stone' has an element of joy mixed with concentration very much like a child's game. `The Visitor' has an apprehensive quality to it provided by the persistent percussion and horn section. `Dawn Patrol' seems to ring like a muted alarm call in the quiet early hours of a day, before growing slowly in intensity. `Clipper' is a bouncing track with steel drums and echoing soulful saxophone. The closing track then provides a slight step away from the precise musicality of the rest of the album with a more improvised and less produced feel. The album as a whole is beautifully relaxing and atmospheric modern jazz.
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This new album by Portico follows on from their glorious debut "Knee Deep in the North Sea", with a similar tone but a new level of maturity.

The focus of the group is the Hang, a sort of inverted steel-drum which plays like a marimba - and provides a beautiful, hypnotic rhythm over which the sax and bass weave delicious harmonies. The drummer switches effortlessly between soft swishing brushes, to sudden bursts of hard-rock thunder. The bass-player sends tingles down the spine with some stunning (and complex) riffs - and the sax player builds exotic soundscapes for the band to play over.

This is music to relax to, music to dance to, music to listen to in smoky bars, music to enjoy - warming, happy, clever, but with an interesting harder edge underneath - whether the occasional screeches from the sax, or rumbling from the bass.

If you like (the late lamented) EST, or Keith Jarrett's Scandinavian group, or even Neil Ardley's synthesiser jazz - you will most likely enjoy this.
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on 13 July 2012
Portico Quartet play an almost indefineable concoction part minimalism, part jazz, part avant-garde, part "world-music". They create soundscapes into which I am delighted to venture, though jazz has only played a peripheral part in my own wanderings until now, and much of that has been in the form of cross-pollinations with traditional music, such as with Pentangle, Lena Willemark And Ale Moller and others.

The quartet's instrumentation is comprised of saxophone, the hang, double-bass and drums, with occasional electronics and piano. The four musicians play with a level of intuition and depth of subtlety that is a real delight to behold. The album has a feel not dissimilar to some of the Scandinavian artists on the ECM record label, whilst that curious hang adds a certain quality redolent of warmer places.

Sometimes, as with Line and Shed Song the quartet evoke images of perpetually shifting reflections on the surface of a lake, or a cascading, bubbling stream, their instruments interweaving and their music forming and reforming. At other times I am reminded of Amnesiac or In Rainbows-era Radiohead, as with Clipper, which was first contact for me and the piece that convinced me to buy this album. Some tracks move as brooding meditations borne upon sinuous undercurrents, threatening to burst forth into discordant cacophony, and then live up to their promise with passages of squawking, honking abandon. Other tracks, like Paper Scissors Stone and Subo's Mental Meltdown, bound along with a playful joie de vivre. The title track Isla is a beauty, a dynamic piece where the band are joined to wonderful effect by a string quartet. The Visitor has a slight Middle Eastern or Klezmer quality to it. Shed Song - an improvised piece named for the garden shed at the bottom of the band's garden in which they were playing, reminds me of the Rockies, vast, epic, quiet landscapes, there are even "cries" reminiscent of the bugling of elk. To me much of the jazz that I have heard elsewhere seems to be "of" the city, but this album frequently feels far removed from all of that. Isla has been intriguing and enchanting me more than any other album these past few weeks, it's a beauty.
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on 13 May 2010
This is a quick review of the vinyl version of this recording.

First off, the music is great. A sort of world-jazz, as I've heard it described, with an interesting combination of instruments and sonics.

The vinyl version does not come with the bonus track that is on the CD and download versions. But don't despair, the record comes with a download coupon for a high-quality 320kps version of the album c/w the bonus track. The sleeve is made from rather thin stock and therefore prone to damage if one doesn't handle it carefully. The vinyl pressing is average. I was a bit disappointed with the quality. There is noticeable pops/clicks on my copy right out of the shrink wrap. I think if you're going to do a vinyl version of your recording, a little extra time and money would be a wise move. Otherwise there doesn't seem to be a lot of point, to me anyway.

In closing, 5 stars for the music, but 1 star deducted for an average vinyl pressing.
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on 21 October 2012
I've heard it said.

I'm convinced. Isla is magical, it percolates through your brain and pushes all the happiness buttons. This strange instrument, the hang, they play has a wonderful effect on their pieces, sharpening the arrangement and notes like a wedge of lemon in your gin and tonic. Accompanied by drums, piano, sax, and no doubt more to my amateur ears, they fit each other like a jigsaw.

Dinner jazz? Not unless you're sacrilegious. This is purely for private take-a-break- moments, headphones listening - and seeing them play live naturally. Yank up the volume and feel the harmonious notes shoot into your brain and recalibrate your biorhythms. Side-effects? Luckily, a remedy for all known types of jazz-inertia.

If you suffer jazz-apathy, give Portico Quartet an ear. They'll redefine what jazz can be, and is heading.

I've played this album far too many times, saving it up like some secret treasure lest it loses some of its novelty. It's like no other music will suffice for me right now. I just need my dose of Isla. It sill doesn't fail to excite me. It make me, nearly, want to go out there and learn an instrument. One day, perhaps.
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on 24 October 2009
PQ are a very distinctive and original sounding group. Whilst I would say this isn't really a 'jazz' album, it would appeal to many jazz and contemporary music fans. There music has more in common with the minimalist/ contemporary genre, kinda like Steve Reich meets Massive Attack, who occasionally bump into Wayne Shorter, perhaps!

Anyway, I love their sound, and would rate this as one of my albums of the year. Track 2 has a section which is so simple, yet beatifully arranged and performed, it's worth buying this album for that alone.
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on 11 March 2013
album che consolida quanto fatto sentire nella prima prova del portico quartet, bellissimo il brano di apertura, sound che delinea il percorso e proietta, a mio avviso, il gruppo verso un futuro di successo. da non far mancare ad una grande collezione.
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on 30 December 2009
I bought this CD following an enthusiastic review by John Fordham. It is one of the CDs from 2009 which I rate most highly. It has overtones (undertones) of some of the Soft Machine's music from the late 1960s / early 1970s. That was and is great stuff. So is this.
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on 5 October 2013
That require a spaciousness and a time given by unhurried listening ears. Give it your rapt attention,it's totally stunning and you may love it! Well,if you don't see them live,get the CD,or both..Oh!..
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on 3 December 2010
My first encounter with the Portico Quartet was at the Brecon Jazz festival this year and they were brilliant. Not surprisingly a lot of the tracks on this, their most recent album, were immediately familiar and just as good, ranging from atmospheric and melancholic to downright foot tappers (make sure you get the version of the album with the extra track - Su-Bo's Mental Meltdown - my highlight of the live event, with a fantastic bass line). Brilliant.
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