Portico Quartet move back to get ahead, as three become four again

Portico Quartet. Picture by Duncan Bellamy
Portico Quartet. Picture by Duncan Bellamy
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The last Portico Quartet album before this year’s Art in The Age of Automation, came out five years ago.

But as their fans will know, this is slightly misleading – they released an album as a slimmed-down trio called simply Portico just two years back.

That 2015 album Living Fields saw the group veer further from their jazz roots into electronica – and working with vocalists for the first time.

As saxophone and keys player Jack Wyllie recalls: ‘That definitely felt like a different project for us. Stylistically it was miles away from anything else we’d ever done, and that’s partly why we called it Portico, rather than the Quartet to try to separate them.’

But with Keir Vine joining the band, they had someone back in the ranks playing the hang, an instrument that gave their earlier albums a distinctive sound.

While the remaining trio enjoyed the experimentation of Living Fields and exploring music with a more filmic quality, Jack has relished getting back to being an instrumental quartet again.

You don’t need to have the academic knowledge of classical music or jazz to appreciate it, so you can go and see us or GoGo Penguin or BadBadNotGood and get it because it relates to what you’ve grown up on

Jack Wyllie

‘I’m really glad we did it, because I learned a lot out of the process and production, and a lot of that has come over into this new record. But I love playing saxophone, and it was really nice to get back to that, which was something I missed.

‘I feel quite happy, especially playing this new record live, I really enjoy it, and that’s one of the key differences for me, and one of the main reasons I’ve enjoyed going back to a quartet.’

Now signed to jazz/electronica label Gondwana, they’ve found a home where they feel comfortable.

‘Matt (Halsall, Gondwana founder) has been a fan of us for a while, I think he came to see us busking like 12 years ago when we weren’t even a real band, and he kept in touch since then.

‘When we stopped doing stuff with Ninja Tune for the last album, he said: “I want to do it”, and that he would match any offer we got from anyone else. He’s been great, really supportive of the whole thing.’

And it’s put them on the same label as like-minded acts such as GoGo Penguin who have taken jazz and mixed it with electronic influences.

‘There seems to be a lot of music coming out at the moment that mixes those two things, it doesn’t borrow so much from the lineage of jazz in as much as it borrows horizontally from things like electronica, or acts like BadBadNotGood who borrow from hip-hop, and that kind of thing – it’s a it more from outside the lineage.

‘That’s kindly partly what appeals to younger 20, 30, 40-year-olds who’ve grown up on dance music, they can now go and see a concert, where you don’t need to have the academic knowledge of classical music or jazz to appreciate it, so you can go and see us or GoGo Penguin or BadBadNotGood and get it because it relates to what you’ve grown up on.

‘I think it’s a generational thing.’

Many first heard of the Quartet when their debut, Knee-Deep In The North Sea was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize – something the group were happy to embrace.

‘For any of the jazz nominations, because jazz has a relatively small audience compared to the other names on the list, in terms of promotion, it’s a huge opportunity.

‘It opens you up to a lot of people outside your jazz-listening audience. Commercially it’s amazing, but it’s also nice to have that critical acclaim that someone values your music outside of the jazz world.

‘I was quite young when it happened – 22, 23, I’d just finished university and then there was quite a bit of exposure which felt amazing, it was a bit of a rollercoaster.

‘And it’s still got a bit of currency to it after all this time.’

Turner Sims, Southampton

Friday, October 13