ambient instrumental jazz Modern Jazz review tuned percussion

Portico Quartet – Terrain Review

If handpan jazz channelled post-rock.

Sounds like…

A handpan jazz quartet channelling post-rock song structures.

The review

Portico Quartet’s latest album ‘Terrain’ is their sixth and the band say it’s largely inspired by their long for long improvisations. With their second album ‘Isla’, the jazzy handpan collective enjoyed building tracks around loops of sounds and rhythms and this is exactly how ‘Terrain’ was made too.

Boldly, the album contains only three tracks. Two are around 10 minutes long and one is an almost 20-minute odyssey. As each track is built on various patterns and loops phasing in and out around a central rhythmic signature, the album feels like a jazz version of a post-rock album. By that I mean you’ll have big long build-ups to a nadir moment and then spend minutes having layers slowly strip away or spin into themselves. Each track follows this kind of structure with slightly different instruments coming to the fore. Sometimes it will be the piano or the handpan – specifically in ‘Terrain III’ – it is the drums.

Portico Quartet photo
Portico Quartet

This makes ‘Terrain’ a very difficult sell as a starting point for the band as these are long-form dreamy meditations on their instruments. They aren’t hugely hook focused and instead play with a longer cinematic feel. Do the tracks reach those feelings? Absolutely, but you are guided there in a jazzy pilgrimage over time. ‘Terrain’ makes for a fantastic ambient mood piece to deep dive on and the tracks work well together too. If you are looking for more hook-driven modern jazz then I’d recommend starting off with the Portico Quartet album ‘Memory Streams‘.

It has taken a few listens for me to really appreciate ‘Terrain’. I agree with the band that this is Portico Quartet’s most fluid and free flowing album to date. That comes a bit of a cost to accessibility but if you think of the tracks as symphonic movements, it contextualises it a bit. The way the drums, sax, handpan and synths all work in unison is never in doubt – as it never has been for the band. Just know that this will be a grower, not a shower going in. Also, if you are in the market for buying the album – it’s priced wildly different online. Some sites have it between £7 and £9. Other sites have it a single release at £2. Have a rummage online to get the price that is right for you.

Recommended track: Terrain III

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