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A Magazine for Sheffield

Knee-Deep In The North Sea

Long gone are the days of busking on London's South Bank, and ever-present are the days of re-releasing 'deluxe' versions of an album made less than five years ago. Originally released in 2007, the 2008 Mercury Music Prize nominated breakthrough album from the foursome saw them take on the role of token teeny tiny little upcoming band within the awards and as you might have guessed they've benefited nicely from the publicity. And well deserved publicity it is too.

Naturally, comparisons have been made to the orchestras Cinematic and Souljazz, bands that display musicianship you'd be hard pressed to find in many other genres. Too much distortion and drone sometimes makes you suspect that artists are compensating for their lack of musical talent by smudging it into oblivion, as much as the hypnagogic pop thang compels, the crisp sound and huge range demonstrated by artists such as the quartet demands respect and a keen ear to pick out those details.

On the album, flourishes of styles are played on conventional jazz instruments but not in a traditional jazzy way. And by traditional instruments I mean sax, drums, double bass, hang...come on, don't tell me you don't know what a Hang is the aural twin sister of the steel drums, but slightly more attractive and played with the fingers. The fascinating instrument gives each track a melodic density that is offset by the dynamic but not overpowering drums. But whatever you do, never confuse the hang for a drum, as manufacturers PANArt carefully advise: "Treating it as a drum and promoting the name hang drum...has created a ripple effect of misinformation that leads to damaged hang, physical injury, and mental and emotional turbulence." Just don't do it!

For those who haven't yet stumbled across the quartet or the hang, this is the package for you. Additional live tracks include versions of the title track and 'Steps in the Wrong Direction', recorded at Copenhagen Jazz Festival, along with the previously unreleased 'All the Pieces Matter', recorded at Maida Vale for Gilles Peterson - all of which fit seamlessly into the pre-recorded and tweaked jigsaw, the only things betraying them being the noise of the live audience.

Portico Quartet are embarking on a series of tour dates throughout February, and I have it on good authority that their live performances are wondrous.