A wisp of dry-ice smoke floats through a crepuscular purple-lit stage. A man tiptoes on, silently placing a lid on what looks like one of a pair of matching kettle barbecues. The air of mystery is set.

The colour turns to blue and on walk four serious young men, some with very short beards or very long stubble, in clean sneakers, jeans and T-shirts. Complex rhythms start up, driven by Duncan Bellamy, percussionist and electronics maestro. The ‘barbecue’ played by Keir Vine turns out to be
the trademark ‘hang’ of the band, sounding somewhere between a steel drum and a vibraphone. Milo Fitzpatrick plays his double bass as though it were anything but; bowed, and sounding like a cello or plucked with a plectrum, resonant of a semi-acoustic guitar, or at times a violin. To complete the sonic array the strains of a muted saxophone float ethereally, courtesy of alto and tenor player Jack Wyllie, across the multi-rhythmic, pulsating and insistent groundswell.

Previously compared to artists as far apart on the spectrum as Radiohead, E.C.M, Philip Glass, The Cinematic Orchestra and Steve Reich, The Portico Quartet’s music clearly evokes many memories and moods. Somewhere between hi-tech jazz and state-of-the-art electronics, it skips effortlessly between tri-decade periods – the free-form improvised jazz of the 1950s, the riffy, machine-made pop of the 1980s, and the multiple time signatures underpinning the mixture of traditional and uber- modern instruments which characterise the somewhat avant-garde ‘mazzic’ of the contemporary tweenies.

Echoes of Dave Brubeck and Buddy Rich mix with Kraftwerk and The Penguin Café Orchestra along with Bill Bruford, Earthworks and the jazzier parts of Tortoise. The decades in between are largely ignored, with the honourable exception of affectionate reminders of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

These are accomplished musicians indeed; songs which start out in 7/4 are challenged by 8/8 beats while Latinesque triplets of the wider genre continue to set an accessible and almost danceable tone.

Duncan and Keir also physically play the repetitive riffs rather than programming them, making the (very) occasional falter add a humanity to this performance, lacking in the early days of electronica.

In the second set the atmosphere changes. There is more improvisation (complete with the mandatory ‘drum solo’ beloved of jazz, albeit using cutting-edge ‘skins’) and the effect is darker and more edgy.

This band, who could keep a small company afloat in terms of musical instrument stands and effects alone, somehow transcend a stage littered with chrome and black, and ubiquitous pedals and dials, to produce a quirky, original, touching and above all, memorable performance. They bring the beautiful Capstone Theatre to vibrant life on a cold Sunday night.

And, it’s not often that a jazz audience leaves the gig humming tunes.

– Gayna Rose Madder

The Portico Quartet are currently on tour. For more information see porticoquartet.tumblr.com. For more information on The Capstone Theatre visit www.thecapstonetheatre.com

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