Album number four from the Mercury Prize-nominated Portico Quartet finds the group continuing their brand of fusing of jazz with electronics, producing pieces of cinematic grandeur as often as music that seems perfectly designed to soundtrack a chilled-out, post-club Balearic sunrise.
There’s no denying that ‘Art In The Age Of Automation’ is a great album, and one that’s well worth the five year wait since their last. The highlight ‘Objects To Place In A Tomb’ manages to find an elusive, delicate tension between mournful string sounds and the urgency of Duncan Bellamy’s skittish drum kit, or the faltering, slowed-down breakbeat that concludes the track. The strident, slowly-developing ‘Rushing’ has a vaguely paranoid quality to it, something like a creeping nervous panic, largely thanks to rigid drumming and Keir Vine Hang’s unswerving piano motif; that combination is all the more thrilling for its final collapse into pure noir soundscapes over which Jack Wylie’s sensitive textural saxophone playing hovers serenely. ‘RGB’s baggy shuffle is one of the highlights here, as is the shimmering pulses of ‘Lines Glow’, while the curt ‘S/2000S5’ is a minor maelstrom of disruptive electronic noise.
The only issue, and this depends entirely on your point of view, is that this is often a very ‘nice’ album. Electronics afford the opportunity to expand jazz’s boundaries almost limitlessly, and there are countless units doing just that right now, with plenty of compelling grit. By focussing in on softer deployments of electronics and more subtle processing, and staying resolutely in an ambient soundworld, ‘Art In The Age Of Automation’ does feel comparatively safe; well turned-out and nicely polished, but generally risk-free in execution.
If you can hear past all of that, this is a perfectly fine, assured, clever fusion jazz record stuffed full of interesting combinations and insistent melodic shapes – and one that’s well worth spending quality time in the company of.
Words: Mat Smith (@mjasmith)
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