Welcome to Feature Fridays! Each week, AU Music Library staff highlight an item from our collection. While the library is closed, we will feature items that are available for streaming. This week student assistant Matt Francisco reviews Isla, by the Portico Quartet.
Formed in 2005, Portico Quartet is a contemporary instrumental four-piece from London. Blending jazz, electronica, ambient music and minimalism, their distinct sound has become ubiquitous in the nu-jazz movement. The Quartet’s first few albums are largely acoustic; they first performed as a band on the street, and many of their songs were created while street performing. Their signature sound is centered around frontman Nick Mulvey’s use of the hang drum. Following his departure in 2011, the group turned to sampling the hang and other electronic elements to fill the gap.
Their second release, Isla, is the band’s final live effort before his departure. Written over a period of four months and recorded at Abbey Road; it’s a much darker, more introspective take on their debut sound. Each track on the record feels influenced both by the minimalism of Steve Reich and the melancholy of Radiohead. The result is what The Washington Post calls “wholly original, 21st century experimentalism that stirs both body and soul”.
Songs like “The Visitor” introduce half-time breaks reminiscent of heavier genres such as classic rock and metal. Others, such as “Line” feature beautiful arpeggios held inside of mathematical and dissonant Reich-style looping. Lastly, title track “Isla” is introduced with horror-like effects that give way to an optimistic and powerful crescendo, returning to darkness at its conclusion.
In all, Portico Quartet’s Isla is simultaneously familiar and nothing like you’ve ever heard before. It’s a sonic journey from beginning to end that’s well worth listening to. Check it out now on Naxos Jazz!