Embarking on their fifth album, Portico Quartet is part of the new jazz collective that continues to mix jazz into other genres of music. They bring what is often an insular genre out into the open and offer it up as accessible for other listeners. ‘Memory Streams’ is a fantastic example of this.
With this album, they explore elements of ambient, prog-rock and abstract soundscapes and this is captured in the rise and fall of the opening track ‘With, Beside, Against’. It starts off with the standard modern jazz trio of drums, bass and piano before bringing in shoegazing distant guitar wails and crunchy guitar distortion as an ambient synth. It’s like an expansive soundtrack and that breadth stays throughout the album. ‘Signals In the Dark’ interplays saxophone and hang drum alongside the double bass and drums. The song becomes more flailing and tense as it infolds and sounds more like ambulance sirens in the dark. The saxophone and tuned percussion stay for the dreamlike ‘Gradient’ that effortlessly smears a waxy coating on the production and drenches it in a cool organ. It’s more chill out than jazz and that’s exactly how I like it.
‘Ways of Seeing’ see’s the album move into the electronica stage as the jazz elements bubbling around under the percussion loops and airy synths. You could get away with it at a yoga dance party and it melts into a haze for the midpoint of ‘Memory Palace’ – a slow piano motif taken from the earlier track ‘Gradient’.
The album then moves into its second half where the tracks ‘Offset’, ‘Dissident Gardens’, ‘Double Helix’ and ‘Immediately Visible’ all work together like they are one suite of songs. They bring each element of Portico Quartet together to allow the percussion, saxophone, bass and synths to work in tandem but also shine on their own. Apparently there is an element of improvisation in the tracks that came out when these were recorded but you’d never know – they sound confident and poised with their melody and rhythm. Possibly the standouts are the amazing ‘Dissident Gardens’ which crams every genre the album goes for into one five and a half minute track and ‘Immediately Visible’ which starts off calm and ends up a rolling tsunami of rapturous instrumentation. Portico Quartet placed the experimental stuff up front and then showcased their jazz band element here. The craftsmanship and technical prowess is outstanding and they know how to let each other have a moment in the sun.
Previously I’d only caught a few of Portico Quartet’s tracks and they were on my list of bands I really need to get acquainted with. I am so glad I did. ‘Memory Streams’ is a phenomenal album for any jazz lover and particularly those who love jazz cross over. This is where I wanted my itch scratched and Portico Quartet had me well and truly covered. Stunning.
Recommended track: Dissident Gardens
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