ICYMI REVIEW // Portico Quartet at Gijón Jazz Festival

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Portico Quartet Will Purify Your Soul

Words by Elena Lyons


It’s 2013. Back in a smoky first-year halls room, filling the space with sounds of Funki Porcini, Dauwd, Late Night Tales and DJ Shadow, out comes Portico Quartet, casting abstract geometric shapes into the darkness.

‘Paper Scissors Stone’, a tune sent by a London friend on the Spotify message feature.

Five years later, I’m sat in a similarly dark room, on a considerably more cushioned (and fancy) seat, feeling similarly smoke-filled as effervescent sounds ripple into Teatro Jovellanos, across Gijón Jazz Festival.

I’ve always imagined Portico Quartet as a shapeshifting fractal: moving pieces of sacred geometry, revolving together in infinite black space.

From what I can see tonight, they’re a 4-person band made up of sax, keyboard, hang/handpan, drums and double bass as lead instruments. They’re humble, and the musical harmony that floats out from the instruments is so much more than the sum of its parts.

I sit there and wonder how they write their songs. Like, how does something like that begin? It’s like jamming around a fire with beautiful musicians.

‘Ruins’ heads the set and eases us in to this heart-penetrating experience with the bubbling tones of the handpan - or ‘Hang’, which is one of the sounds the quartet are known for - like hot springs pouring into a copper bathtub.

They’re so connected, so in time that it feels totally harmonious as they channel these vibrations into the hall. I can feel that this is not just music, but a spiritual cleanse, akin to Tibetan bowl singing.

It’s a virtually voiceless performance, save for drummer Duncan Bellamy’s introduction of the songs. More a four-man orchestra than a band, it’s about hearing talented people play mind-altering music, letting your eyes close and absorb rather than jumping about and grooving. I’m glad it’s a seated gig.

Each level of each song brings a new feeling, like it’s moving through my body, prompting reflective thoughts, calm, pain, anger and love. It’s deep and pensive.

Plunging through the body from the first beat and making its way up, slowly purifying my soul.

On reflection I am certain that this is the band’s intention: their latest album ‘Art In The Age Of Automation’ (Gondwana Records) points to an encouragement to be creative, independent and aware in a time where everything is done for us.

It almost feels essential to me now that music, or any type of art, has an according message in order to feel relevant or enjoyable. Otherwise is it just noise? Music that makes us think about change, music where I can feel the energies of the musicians creating it - their hearts and their opinions, despite a lack of lyrics.

They’re here as part of the Gijón jazz festival, but their genre is illusively hard to pin down. Ambient, slow jazz, electronica, just totally unique.

At the end I was lost for words - speechless - yet feeling uncannily renewed. Not in a bouncy, light kind of way that you might associate with being rejuvenated. Music as truthful as that touches the core and brings up questions, fears, concepts that one can only face when faced with the things themselves. Something in the music provokes a deep inner reflection.

I really don’t know how they do it, but PQ inoculate their music with this profound honesty which awakens their listeners. Sending them to a hypnotic state and transforming accordingly.

When we eventually found words again we talked about climate change and the state of the world over vegetarian curry, trying to figure out something positive out of the continuing gloom. Our answers: lentils, the handpan and trying to live ethically.

Signed by Manchester label Gondwana Records, Portico Quartet will heal you, too.

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