Portico Quartet is a collective of deep, thoughtful and positive thinking musos who have been recording since 2007. The quartet features Duncan Bellamy and Jack Wyllie who wrote all the songs on this album. This is the band's first album on the Manchester record label Gondwana Records, who also house Matthew Halsall and Mammal Hands. Gondwana’s standards are high in terms of the family collective.
There has been a slight change in the band's line up since the band formed. Keir Vine, known for his great Hang drum techniques, Milo Fitzpatrick and Nick Mulvey have since moved on. The musicians are extremely talented and confident contributing to the euphoric experience on this album. However, the jazz is non-existent on this album and I am not sure if it is a change in direction or a deliberate arrow drawn from the quiver of talent.
In the movie Miles Ahead, starring Don Cheadle, the fictional character Dave Braden interviews Miles - to paraphrase:
"So, Miles, I know it’s always go forward, go forward, but even if just for context we have to get into your earlier stuff and modal jazz’s influence"
Miles "I don’t like that word-jazz. Don't call my music jazz. Call it social music".
Art in The Age of Automation is all about social music.
If you listen to other tracks performed by the Quartet in the past - The Visitor and News From Verona - both are edgy, dynamic and fresh. This however, although pleasing to the ear, is somewhat sombre and gets a little distant after a while. This diamond has lost its sparkle. Diversity may have been the polish this album needs. Even just a little bit.
The production is very tight, and listened to in the right environment you will find yourself quickly immersed in the chill-out zone.
Endless begins with a hypnotic electronic pulse, very quickly accompanied by the signature hang drum. Portico are well known for their use of hang and this is a fitting opening to the album. Bellamy delivers a smooth uncomplicated drum pattern with the bass-drum resonating in the low octaves. This track really captures the imagination and is instrumentally well balanced.
The title track Art in The Age of Automation, in my opinion is the strongest of the album. It is played with orchestral precision, feels warm, meaningful and imaginative.
The time- warped sensation on S/2000S5, for a moment displaces your sense of reality before heading to a down-tempo chill-out house track. This could be the anthem to the sunrise on one of Ibiza famed beach parties. This track is memorable, melodic and deep.
A Luminous Beam reminds me of the days, I used to DJ and play tribal-house before the end of the night. This track oozes talent, and may have been best placed as a fitting end to the album.
A talented band producing compelling beats that carry you along on a long journey. However, if you journey too far from jazz, you may lose your way.
Duncan Bellamy (drums, glock)
Jack Wyllie (saxophones, electronics)
Tom Herbert (Bass) Tracks 2, 7
Franscesca Ter-Burg (Strings) Tracks 1, 2, 6,11
Anisa Arslangie (Strings) Tracks 1, 2, 6,11
Label: Gondwana Records