Portico Quartet: Terrain (2021)

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Portico Quartet: Terrain (2021) – Album – Gondwana Records

Genre: Modern Jazz, Minimal Music

Intro

Some time ago I had extensively dealt with the last three albums of GoGo Penguin and among other things wrote a review for the new album “GGP/RMX” by GoGo Penguin.
For me, especially the last track of the album “Don’t Go” in the Portico Quartet Remix had bitten into my ear canal and on the one hand sent one pleasant shiver after another up my spine and on the other hand radiated an enormous amount of pleasant calm.

You can listen to the track here:

And so I approached the PR agency with the request to provide me with the press material for my review for the new album “Terrain” by Portico Quartet, which was released on Friday, May 28, 2021.

The album “Terrain
Portico Quartet

The first few times I listened to it, I thought to myself: okay, this is going to be hard. The album has a total running time of 38m 44s and is featuring 3 tracks:

Terrain I (19m 18s)
Terrain II (6m 16s)
Terrain III (10m 10s)

But in the case of the works by the Portico Quartet I should not speak of tracks, because with the length of the pieces and their complexity it would be better to call them movements. Duncan Bellamy and Jack Wyllie, the masterminds behind the Portico Quartet, had started to work on “Terrain” in their east London studio in May 2020, at the time when the world was in the midst of its first lockdown. But they used the time to extensively compose, record and polish the three Terrain movements. The difficult times led the Portico Quartet to rethink music and to tread new musical paths.

The three compositions are in the tradition of the tracks “Line and Shed Song” (Isla/2009), “Rubidium” (Portico Quartet/2012) and “Immediately Visible” (Memory Streams/2019), Wyllie comments, “That side of the band has always been present with us in some form. At its core, it’s about creating a repeating pattern from which other parts move around and thus begin to form a musical narrative. We really created longer improvisations this time, which have certain similarities to the time when we produced our second Album “Isla”.

Wyllie continues, “On “Terrain” we really took a long, hard look at creating long improvised-sounding pieces, and explored those style structures extensively. And yes, there are influences of American minimalism [Steve Reich, Philip Glass], but I was particularly inspired by the work of the Japanese composer Midori Takada. Her approach, especially on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ where she moves through different worlds and combines elements of minimalism with non-Western instruments and melodies, was in the back of my mind when writing this music.”

Portico Quartet
© Hannah Collins

Terrain I, II and III differ very subtly in their respective compositional structures, but there is always a basic rhythmic motif that is repeated over and over again. Thus, all three movements give the impression of a common journey through the Terrain Suite, but the three movements have different musical climatic conditions, so to speak. There is always a sense of a connecting horizontal movement that gives the sound an interesting flow.

The guys first worked on “Terrain I,” which features a hanging drum pattern to which Bellamy then added cymbals and synths. From this point on, the framework begins to gain structure and Wyllie added saxophone, another synth layer and strings.

Bellamy says it felt more like filmmaking than making music, like a bricolage of conflicting, shifting characters, subtle tension and multiple narratives. Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Mirror” and British artist John Akomfrah’s incredible “Handsworth Songs” were key reference points for Bellamy. Wyllie explains: “There’s a sense of conversation between the two of us, in the sense that someone presents a musical idea, the other person responds to it with something else, which is then responded to again…. until it feels finished.

“These responses are often in harmony with each other,” as Wyllie explains, “but there is also an asymmetry in some of these works. The music slowly evolves through these shared musical dialogues.”

It is this interplay between the composers, but also between calm and a subtle, unsettling melancholy in the three movements that make “Terrain” such a powerful statement. On the one hand, it speaks to our inner world as well as to our outer world, our own personal landscape, our terrain on which we move through time.

Epilogue

“Terrain” is a fascinating album, for which you first have to be willing to fully engage with it, though. However, if you appreciate Hania Rani or even GoGo Penguin, then this shouldn’t be too difficult. The long, minimalistic sound structures have a special calm flow, whereby the stirring saxophone passages remind me a bit of the old stuff of Joe Zawinul’s “Weather Report” (Black Market, 1976), even though Joe Zawinul’s stuff is much more energetic, “blacker” and more funky.

In contrast, the Portico Quartet of 2021 is distinctly more European, with the use of the Hang then a bit more exotically experimental and pleasantly cool. For the Portico Quartet, less is more, and with the minimalism of this imprint, the listener eventually begins to fall in love with these three terrain movements over the course of 38 minutes.

Sound quality

The sound quality of this hi-res 24 bit 44.1 kHz production is excellent and indulges with beautiful clean details, a precise, warm treble range and cleanly defined bass.

Where to buy

Artist: Portico Quartet
Title: Terrain
Format: album
Genre: Modern Jazz, Minimal Music
Release Date: May 28, 2021
Label: Gondwana Records
3 Tracks – 38m 44s

Available at Qobuz in Hi-res
24-Bit / 44.1 kHz – Stereo

My Test Equiment

Studio 1 (High End):

  • 2 x System Audio SA Mantra 50 (front)
  • 1x System Audio SA Mantra 10 AV (center)
  • 2x System Audio SA Legend 5 (rear)
  • 1 x System Audio Saxo 10 (subwoofer)
  • 4 x Onkyo SKH-410 (B) (Dolby Atmos)
  • Auralic Altair (audio streaming client with max. 32 bit / 384 kHz)
  • NVIDIA Shield Pro with Plex, Kodi (max 192 kHz for  Audio, Tidal (MQA Streaming Client)
  • AppleTV 4K (Streaming Client) Dolby Atmos, HDR, Dolby Vision
  • Amazon Cube 4K (Streaming Client) Dolby Atmos (restricted), HDR, Dolby Vision
  • Panasonic DP-UB9004 (4K UHD Player) Dolby Atmos, HDR, Dolby Vision
  • Oppo UDP-203 (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc Player) Dolby Atmos, HDR, Dolby Vision
  • Yamaha CX-A5100 (Preamp) 4K, Dolby Atmos, Hi-res
  • Yamaha MX-A5000 (Power Amp)
  • Sony KD-55A1 (TV) 4K OLED, HDR, Dolby Vision

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