Portico Quartet, Knee-Deep In The North Sea

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

What distinguishes these four young Londoners is their use of "hangs," 21st-century percussion instruments that look like covered broiler pots and sound very similar to steel drums. Struck with mallets, their resonance imparts an ethereality reminiscent of vintage ECM-label material, while their steel-drum tone counters with a tropical flavor.

Nice, subversive fun

Saxophonist Jack Wyllie is the only classic frontline soloist, so it helps that he varies the tempo from prancing, tootling soprano ("News From Verona," "Too Many Cooks") to more fervent squawks, as on the title track and in conjuring the storms that burst through the serene atmospherics on "Monsoon: Top to Bottom." The rest of the group likewise maximizes their mood swings, creating a uniquely foreboding ambiance with bass and a rapidly brushed hang (giving it a subtle, keyboard-ish drone) on "Steps in the Wrong Direction," and then creating a more linear, peppy groove on "The Kon-Tiki Expedition" and "Cittagazze." Hang players Nick Mulvey and Duncan Bellamy (the latter doubles on drums) keep the rhythms brisk without pat superficiality or a gimmicky reliance on the novelty of their instrument. Together with Wyllie and bassist Milo Fitzpatrick, they play with a Euro-classical formality and precision that's nicely subverted by their fondness for fun.