A fierce odyssey of jazz from a distance.
Portico Quartet has had a very busy 2021. Only six months ago they released their album ‘Terrain‘. That was an ambient meander through hazy ideas and a curved structure of noise, building to something specific. ‘Monument’ is the direct opposite. This is Portico Quartet creating some of their most direct music to date. It is a full band effort and electronics seep into every track.
What initially drew me to Portico Quartet was the guise of ‘this is new jazz with a handpan’ and that vibe certainly returns. The handpan is central to the melodic backbone of the album. It’s rarely centre stage – that’s saved for the piano and synths – but it is omnipresent. It gives that band a very unique sound and ‘Monument’ peppers that with lots of electronics. It is the bleeps and twists of ‘Portal’ or the pitch-bending saxophones of ‘A.O.E.’ as the arpeggiators trickle away. Elsewhere it’s the reversed keyboards that make a shimmering backdrop across ‘Ultraviolet’. It’s tastefully pulled, much like the production.
Much of the album has a soft veneer to it. There are moments where the percussion is going absolutely mental but rarely does it slam you around the head with it. Instead, the piano, bass tones and oddly the hi-hats are the loudest things in the mix. The music never sounds brash or bumpy, it effortlessly glides along like a behemoth. On the closing track ‘On the Light’, there’s dramatic wailing organ sirens and their balanced alongside a saxophone solo and pensive piano. Nothing screams ‘look at me’ and that’s quite difficult to do. The flip side is that it takes a few listens to work through the different audio layers of tracks and I’m still discovering little quirks many listens later.
Portico Quartet has also struck upon a melodic structure for a lot of the tracks on the album too. Several of the songs start off as a cascade of notes or notifs that repeat over and over before developing into a bigger, sweeping melody. This makes the early half of many tracks feel quite meditative and riff intensive and then you get a big payoff melodically later on. It’s a clever way to keep an idea constantly evolving as each track blooms and fades away.
If you’ve never tried any music from this exciting jazz collective, ‘Monument’ is possibly the easiest and best place to start (alongside their self-titled album). Its lush and layered soundscapes are easy on the ear and keep the musical craftsmanship hidden until you listen closely. The saxophone and drums especially are phenomenal throughout. Another stellar album from one of the leading jazz-inspired bands making music today.