Photography: Michael Kirkham / @Kirks09

Portico Quartet

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  • Ranga & Harmabe
Bam!Bam!Bam! @ 24 Kitchen Street 10/10/18

For an industrial warehouse, 24 Kitchen Street is warm and glittering. It’s currently home to a sea of musical instruments and energy. The anticipation for cinematic and electronic sound mixed with powerful percussion is abundant as the crowd squeezes up towards the stage. Those dedicated enough to the overall experience, or those who have never been to this particular venue before, are sitting down in the middle of the room itching to watch the performances unfold. Artists, writers, and musicians alike are all brought together by the intuitive sounds PORTICO QUARTET have produced over four outstanding albums.

To ease us into the experience, the duo RANGA & HARAMBE. Admittedly, Ranga seems to be further into the crowd than anticipated due to the tightly packed venue and small stage drowning in instruments. No worry, this adds charm and unity to an evening that has already attracted a niche audience. Multiple decks and drums surround Ranga as he sits almost tucked away to the side of the stage. Harambe, almost by default, takes centre stage, shining as he gently places himself in the spotlight, saxophone in hand. This experimental performance highlights the best parts of jazz nights; long drones followed by fleeting melodies within a spectrum of drums. Bringing the audience ever closer to the rawness of what really makes this music, Ranga sits encompassed in his own world, where sounds and technology are his forte. Displaying immense focus, they entice us into the process of improvisation and the concept of drawing order from perceived chaos. Trills and dissonance are used in copious amounts, along with continuous change in dynamics, creating a story through sounds and emotion.

Portico Quartet Image 2

After being tantalised by the whimsical sounds of Ranga & Harambe, the audience are more than ready to hear the collective talent of Portico Quartet. Eager to hear more enticing percussion over dreamy melodies, they’re now up off the ground and ready for echoes of jazz, minimalism and electronic textures. Having established themselves as an experimental electro-pop trio for their previous album Living Fields, they returned collectively as a four-piece with the contemporary ambient jazz album Art In The Age Of Automation and this year’s companion piece, Untitled (AITAOA #2). Gentle strings and synths are contrasted with the iconic and spellbinding steel pans, courtesy of Keir Vine (keyboards), which provide a gorgeous weightlessness to the songs. This permeates through the instruments and into the crowd, lifting us up and transforming the room into a sea of bodies akin to driftwood; we’re all momentarily lost, without a care in the world.

Long swaying notes from electronic strings provide a cinematic element to the performance, enticing the audience into the songs with their inconsistency, their unpredictability. Songs such as Double Space show the complexity and deliberate use of clattering notes and developing textures. As the song develops, the use of natural sounds interweaving with delicate woodwind captures us in a moment of unexpected tranquillity. The audience appears captivated by the wondrousness of this particular brand of music, and how it can paint such a vivid mental picture. The use of both tender and volatile sounds transforms Portico’s set from a musical odyssey to a living artwork. The music breathes between the notes, not just the musicians.

A room full of people connected, sharing an experience led by fierce sonic percussion and soothing hang drums. And yet all in attendance are individually being taken away to a place of personal introspection. Momentary solace in the close, noisy confines. The lighting is minimal yet effective; bold white lights highlight drummer Duncan Bellamy’s instruments and precise beats played almost hypnotically. As his sticks rapidly bounce along the top of the cymbals the senses are drenched in an array of double time and swift movement. A sense of adventure takes over, gently developed by animated drum pieces that rise to a crescendo. Endless provides a contemporary and radiant expansion of jazz using electronic riffs with orchestral themes to create a hypnotic display of sounds.

“The use of both tender and volatile sounds transforms Portico’s set from musical odyssey to a living piece of artwork. Here, the music breathes between the notes, not just the musicians”

It’s liberating to be engaged with a musical craft where assortments of instrument can join the mix at any moment. Subtly, they all play their parts, taking over as lead and gracefully allowing for new directions to be explored within a song. The arrival and fade of instrumental layers is executed perfectly; the bassline that’s commonly presented in Portico Quartet’s songs holds everything together like glue. Among the full compilation of sounds and layers, we can sense how each member of the band reacts to the other’s presence; the small cues they take, the understanding that allows a fill to drift before re-engaging with the rhythm with ease. Each member introduces a new element of electronic and experimental jazz to be taken and personalised by the next member. All in attendance are happy to feel this series of ambient, yet intense, developments wash over their consciousness. Every piece, it seems, creates an unravelling message, changing from dreamy and monophonic patterns to deep brassy progressions.

Here, tonight, Kitchen Street is blessed with an effortless and hypnotic performance. It’s one they display regularly. Only this time, it’s delivered with the intimacy and closeness of community Liverpool brings to events across the city.

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