Portico Quartet and Basquiat Strings
Voodoo Lounge, Edinburgh, Tue 19 Feb
The Portico Quartet have been grabbing a lot of attention since the release of their debut album last year. Part of the buzz has definitely centred on the unusual instrument at the heart of their distinctive sound, but as their album Knee Deep in the North Sea made clear, this London-based group have more to offer than just the novelty of an unusual sound.
The band is made up of two musicians playing everyday jazz instruments: Jack Wyllie on saxophone and Milo Fitzpatrick on double bass. Duncan Bellamy and Nick Mulvey complete the line-up on percussion, but their armoury also features the instrument that has become such a signature of their ensemble sound.
Both play ‘hang’, a percussion instrument that has been said to resemble a musical flying saucer, as well as a more sophisticated development of the steel drum (or pan) familiar in Caribbean music. It is the creation of a Swiss duo, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, collectively known as Panart. The name ‘hang’ apparently means ‘hand’ in Bernese dialect, and indicates the prescribed method of playing it. The instrument is made exclusively by Panart in Berne, and you can’t just buy one – they require prospective customers to write requesting an initiation to the workshop, where they are scrutinised as to their suitability.
The Portico players got the thumbs up, and will make their Scottish debut here, shared with another highly-rated London band, the Basquiat Strings. They are an unconventional string quintet plus a familiar drummer – the mighty Seb Rochford – one of two Scots in the band (violinist Vicky Fifield being he other). I’ll be hanged if it shouldn’t add up a night of fresh and iconoclastic music.