Portico Quartet @ Brighton Dome 18.02.11

There are times when the term 'support act' doesn't seem quite right, and the rousing cheers that greet Portico Quartet as they amble on stage in Brighton suggests plenty in the near sell-out crowd are here as much to see them as headliners Penguin Cafe Orchestra. And why not, given the Quartet's role in providing a wonderful take on what jazz can do in the 21st century?

Feb 18th, 2011 at Brighton Dome / By Norman Miller
Portico Quartet Nick Mulvey's hang drums - the distinctive steel drum-like instrument that has provided a unique sound to Portico's recent output - opens the set on ‘Dawn Patrol’, underpinned in a mesmeric interplay with Milo Fitzpatrick's double bass before the tempo surges into a sax-and-drums mash-up between Jack Wyllie and Duncan Bellamy.

Yet however jagged, the clear authority of each player underlines a sense of easy complexity throughout the handful of tracks that make up an all-too-short set.

‘Paper, Scissors, Stone’ blends organ-like electronics with an Eastern-inflected melody on the hang, building to a wonderful hypnotic section over which Wyllie's sax weaves spiral patterns. There's a similar beautifully judged ebb and flow on a brilliant rendition of ‘Line’, which starts like an atmospheric slice of IDM before its tinkling electronic noodles develop into intricate patterns highlighted with little sax phrases.

‘Life Mask’ provides an epic finale, kicking off with a delicately beautiful piano foray by Wyllie into which Bellamy slips delicate smears of electronics, before a switch by Wyllie onto recorder ushers in a beefy middle section that still retains a delicate melodic trace underneath its more sinewy sound. Yet the quartet find a way to close the circle as the track slips back into the earlier mood of melancholy late-night blues, ushered to its close with achingly sweet xylophone from Bellamy.

Three-quarters of an hour have passed with a show of effortless mastery that just makes you wish they might have swapped round the acts to give Portico time to display more of their dazzling wares.