Portico Quartet, Isla (RealWorld, 2010)

Portico Quartet are a London-based jazz ensemble consisting of Jack Wyllie on saxophone, Milo Fitzpatrick on bass, Duncan Bellamy on drums, and Nick Mulvey on an instrument called the hang. The hang is a 21st-century percussion instrument with a sound much like that of a steel drum, and adds a bit of a unique dimension to the group's sound.  Isla is Portico Quartet's second album.

While the hang does give Isla some Carribean and African flavor, the album will still appeal primarily to jazz audiences.  The saxophone handles all the melodies, with the hang assuming the role normally taken by a piano in a jazz quartet.  Like a lot of jazz recordings, Isla alternates between melodic passages and interludes with often dissonant experimentation and improvisation.  While the more pleasant parts work pretty well, there are moments on Isla where things just degenerate into an ugly mess, and I really didn't hear anything of value in these stretches. I'll admit that I haven't really delved into jazz enough to make a fully informed opinion on particular recordings, but I know it's possible to be jarring without losing your sense of musicality, and Portico Quartet really don't succeed in that regard.

Isla has its moments, and certainly the hang provides enough justification for curious listeners to give Portico Quartet their attention. While their attempts at being edgy just didn't work for me, fans of smoother should find a few tracks to their liking here.

Overall grade: C+

reviewed by Scott


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