Isla

Portico Quartet, 2009

Isla is a thoughtful and richly tuneful collection of nine pieces recorded by producer John Leckie at Abbey Road no. 2, a studio room made legendary by George Martin, the Beatles, Kate Bush and many others.

Leckie's track record as a catalyst for emerging talent is legendary: not only for the famous examples, Stone Roses, Doves, XTC, Radiohead, but also for pioneering systems orchestra Lost Jockey (which spawned Man Jumping, ZTT's Andrew Poppy, Orlando Gough, and soundtrack supremo John Lunn) and World Music stars such as Rodrigo & Gabriela and Papa Wemba.

Isla, the new album from Portico Quartet, is another step forward. Producer Leckie has brought an extra clarity to their arrangements, while the musicians have made good use of the studio to sculpt and enhance their sound with loop pedals, real-time electronics and overdubs. Nevertheless, 70 per cent of the album was performed live at Abbey Road: this is a band who can deliver on the promise of their recordings in concert; and vice versa. Their collectively written compositions evoke a universe of musical possibilities and influences. 'Eventually, the sum of all our parts - and what we've been listening to - comes out,' says Wyllie. Yet Portico Quartet sound like nobody else in jazz, World or contemporary music. Each of the nine tracks on Isla has a distinct mood and atmosphere, while remaining firmly within their soundworld. From the churning maelstrom of Clipper to the pounding pedal points of Dawn Patrol; from the fragile ostinatos of Line to the anthemic ensemble of the title track, Isla is an album whose contents reveal fresh nuances and facets on each listen.

Reviews

  • A three-piece Portico Quartet will introduce a new electronic sound at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival A three-piece Portico Quartet will introduce a new electronic sound at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival A grey industrial building in the busy jumble of the East End: this is the part of London where the work gets done. Downstairs are a shoemaker, an exotic foods importer, some Rastas constructing deep bass music, even an African church. And up three flights of stairs, along the corridor, one of new British music's less likely success stories is putting in a long shift. At one end of the room, by the cheese plant and Rothko poster, is a stack of bicycles, the Portico Quartet's preferred transport; at the other is a drum kit, double bass, saxophones and - more recent purchases - assorted digital gizmos. For this is a band busy reinventing itself. When the Portico Quartet take the stage at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on Bank Holiday Monday the outfit who introduced the warm, chiming timbre of the hang drum to the Mercury Prize finals in 2008 will look and sound rather different. For a start, for half the set they will be the Portico Trio because this is the final gig of one of their two hang players, Nick Mulvey. Milo Fitzpatrick, the bass player, explains: "He's leaving to become a singer-songwriter. All the time he was playing hang, even though we were doing well, he had that gnawing feeling that there were other things he wanted to do in music. But we're still all friends." The departure was the spur for change. Jack Wyllie, the saxophonist, adds: "Now, there's more electronics, a lot of live manipulation of instruments that we developed when we were touring the last album,Isla." The band's signature sound, the hang - a sort of hi-tech steel drum that looks like an upturned wok - was becoming a prison. Its acoustic tones were marooned amid the increasingly electronic textures of their music. The answer has been to sample the hang, morphing it into tinkling arpeggios or deep, booming bass. The band then offer to play a world premiere of two works in progress: the first hints at the Radiohead of Kid A and builds over insistent dubstep rhythms. The second is more traditionally Portico-like but with electronic textures that broaden and dramatise their sound. "We're still trying to create a journey but we're using different routes," Fitzpatrick says. Certainly the hang has served them well. After a DIY album, Knee-deep in the North Sea, that they made while busking at the South Bank in London sold 20,000 copies, the four turned professional. A Mercury Prize shortlisting swiftly followed and, for once, the "token jazz" entrant was neither ignored nor patronised by rock-minded judges. Last year they headlined at the 1,800-seat Barbican, another milestone - "It made us realise we had a big home audience," Fitzpatrick says - and in the past year they have played as far afield as Australia and New York. They're big in Germany but it's in France where "le gang au hang" are the hottest ticket. The audience for defiantly unclassifiable instrumental music seems larger on the Continent, say the band. In Britain they suffer the problems with the media of any group who can't quite be pigeonholed. "Our music is hooky and it's easy to get into," Wyllie says. But the band haven't spent years studying John Coltrane. "The jazz people aren't always that interested because it's not really jazz, " he says. Not that rock radio can be any easier: they long ago learnt that DJs want banter, not the band's musings on modal improvisation. But the band, who are still in their fresh-faced mid-twenties, have grown up in an era when the rigid categories of the record megastore (remember them?) have blurred. Their inspirations come unmediated from Spotify, iTunes or a vibrant live local music scene. What's striking, too, is how the band have always seemed confident of success. Fitzpatrick says: "Ever since the busking days, we could see that the audience wasn't from one demographic. We didn't feel that we were pandering to one kind of crowd. Hopefully, somebody out there is always going to like the music, whatever age or creed." As the band move from sunny musical climes to somewhere darker and stranger, they are about to find out. The Times (UK)
  • The band end their set...we spot a small tear fall down one Portico fan's cheek...for modern jazz, this is perfection. ...only pure enjoyment in the beautiful music. As the gig goes on, the people refuse to simmer their feet down, they refuse to speak to one another, they let the music do all the talking for them....the expert playing of Nick Mulvey on the hang drums during the song 'Isla' receives many-a-cheer as well as the flawless drumming ability of Duncan Bellamy, and the effortless talent of their saxophonist virtuoso....Nick spreads his thanks to the audience and the crew as the band play their pre-encore song 'Dawn Patrol'. The song finishes but the audience will not be moved and continue to cheer the empty stage. This last song (Stepping In The Wrong Direction) is certainly the band's strongest, providing strong and memorable bass and saxophone melodies, experimental drum patterns and beautiful hang drum sequences all in one song. For modern jazz, this is perfection....such an intensely driven and powerful performance from the band. The venue empties and as people step out back into London's big freeze Portico Quartet are definitely the best central heating system in the world. Bearded Magazine (UK)
  • Thank God snow days don't cancel gigs… Portico Quartet create the kind of music that makes you nostalgic for memories you have not lived, homesick for places undiscovered and feel intimately, exhaustively acquainted with people you have exchanged nothing more than a smile with. The Kaje (UK)
  • Portico Quartet's short ICA residency is a triumphant cheer for fluid ensemble playing and sheer talent. ...tonight shows, labels don't matter at all when such impressive musicianship is at play. ...there's a real sense of musical socialism here...this is music played with shared love rather than self-centered fury. The crowd drink it up in reverential, static silence; though there's no beard-stroking or sage nodding here. Instrumental music of whatever kind - classical, jazz, ambient - is so often the preserve of a particular elite, but this is something altogether different. The inclusive spirit of the band extends to its audience - tonight is there to be enjoyed by three-chord rock fans just as much as by polo-neck-wearing musos...they're classically trained musicians making music which can be appreciated at whatever level suits the listener. MusicOMH (UK)
  • Portico Quartet Bring Experimental Sound to First New York Gig As Portico Quartet began their first-ever New York show at Joe's Pub on Tuesday night, the band's set-up alone added a bit of mystery to what these London 20-somethings were going to play. Jack Wyllie's alto and soprano saxophones took the place for lead vocals while percussionist Nick Mulvey's Hangs -- steel drums from Switzerland that look more like mini UFOs than actual instruments -- sounded both like the keyboard and rhythmic components to this foursome's unique vibe. Add in the more traditional double-bass player Milo Fitzpatrick and drummer Duncan Bellamy, and Portico Quartet performed a 75-minute set that hardly anyone could define. Playing songs from their latest album, 'Isla,' the band seemed layered everything from scratching on cymbals to Wyllie's improvisation on the tiny curved soprano sax and trickled into shoegaze territory on 'Life Mask (Interlude).' While the 6 train's rumble underneath Joe's Pub can interrupt a musician's flow, the underground traffic seemed to blend into the sound Portico Quartet created. With big cheers from the crowd and enthusiastic requests for an encore, Mulvey was very grateful to everyone who made it to the show. "This is our first-ever show in New York City," he said. "Thanks so much for coming out to hear us play." Spinner (UK)
  • Sublime ...a quietly impassioned set of originals that fuse elements of pop, jazz, classical and electronic music....the music is suffused with tension. The arrangements beg for resolution, but the performances are ultimately so sublime that it hardly matters whether they achieve it or not. Its lack of vocals aside, the contemplative intensity of "Paper Scissors Stone" would have sounded right at home on Van Morrison's 1968 landmark, "Astral Weeks." The propulsive "Dawn Patrol" makes use of Middle Eastern modalities, while "Life Mask," with its exquisitely glacial calm - calls to mind the breathtaking meditations of the great jazz pianist Bill Evans. Other antecedents, from Cecil Taylor to Brian Eno, can be heard among the at once ruminative and ecstatic performances here. The aggregate, however, is wholly original, 21st-century experimentation that sirs both body and soul. The Washington Post (USA)
  • ...in one word, atmospheric ...Isla is both captivating and calming. What's more, as the album goes on, each of its nine tracks represents something different, giving listeners the impression that Isla is telling one over-arching, very pretty, mystical story. The album opens with "Paper Scissors Stone," which sets the stage for the rest of the collection with its turbo-charged beats and some lively saxophone in the forefront. Portico Quartet has already established its very own sound, and songs like "Dawn Patrol" (with its bass and xylophone usage) are a testament to its emotional power. Another thing that makes these Londoners so special is that their sound is largely acoustic. It is cool jazz, dreamy classical and cerebral post-rock all at once. Out of all the tracks on Isla, "Su-Bo's Mental Meltdown" is probably one of the most crowd-pleasing, with its bumping bass and multi-instrumental collaboration. Isla also has a slightly melancholic flair to it. The sad bouts of sax are accompanied by surprise outbursts of percussion, and when they meet they create a beautifully rich sound. cmj.com (USA)
  • Review from Los Angeles Times Music Blog There's no way to talk about the Portico Quartet without first talking about the hang drum. A UFO-shaped oddity that looks like two welded-together woks after a couple of well-placed whacks with a ball-peen hammer, its percolating, chiming pulse provides an exotic focal point to the unique saxophone, bass and drum instrumentals by these East London twentysomethings, whose 2008 debut was nominated for a Mercury Prize in the U.K. For the follow-up, the group has teamed with producer John Leckie, who previously worked with the Stone Roses and Radiohead. And while the quartet's sound gains a new richness with a few well-placed flourishes of strings and electronics, its unclassifiable core remains intact. With Nick Mulvey's hang drums variously recalling a thumb piano, steel drums or even a vaguely electronic-feeling sonic backdrop, Portico Quartet's bewitching mix can sound like a noirish jungle cruise scored by Wayne Shorter and Steve Reich. Rising out of an insistent bass line, the moody "Dawn Patrol" boils over into a flurry of saxophone and percussion acrobatics, while the hypnotic maze of ringing hang drums in "Line" recalls the widescreen sweep of Moby's early ambient days. Blending an almost futuristically elegant sense of atmosphere with flashes of raw, flesh-and-blood expression, Portico Quartet isn't the first to carve out such a pan-global sonic world, but it's created one that's welcoming to visit. Los Angeles Times (USA)
  • Paste Magazine recently revealed their 10 August Albums to check out, naming Portico Quartet's ISLA as one of them - rating it 8.6 out of 10. "Considering their implementation of unconventional instruments like the hang (a slightly more temperate-sounding steel pan) and consistent but subtle electronic inducements, the four piece's genre-bending appeal is certainly warranted." Jennifer Ross Paste Magazine (USA)
  • If Radiohead tried to make 'proper' jazz and not the half-baked hybrid it attempts to now, it would perhaps sound somewhat like the Portico Quartet. This is a four piece jazz band that deserve honorable mention alongside ECM's finest, a group who transcend genre boundaries and who are also stunningly talented musicians. Hailing from Britain, the Portico Quartet aren't as obscure as you might think, their pop culture markings run deep. Nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2007 for their debut Knee Deep In the North Sea, two years later they recorded this album Isla in Abbey Road Studio 2 with none other than John Leckie (Radiohead, Stone Roses, Muse) and now have signed to Peter Gabriel's Real World Label. But what's so astounding about this group is how truly individual and original they sound. Being so young, you would imagine the guys to be name-checking Lady Ga Ga and The XX but the group retain their beautiful, sentimental and unusual style throughout the whole album. Think EST, Tord Gustavsen and Jan Garbarek for jazz fans and Philip Glass, Cinematic Orchestra, Steve Reich or even shades of Tortoise for others. Brooding, urgent and unique, tracks like 'Shed Song (Improv. No 1)' and 'The Visitor' leave you feeling huanted long after you've heard them, with their screeching clarinets and detailed percussion. The hypnotic 'Dawn Patrol' equivalent to a long stretch of road that you can never get off, and 'Life Mask' is a tormented ballad that hits you from all angles. For me the true star of this album is the innovative use of the Swiss instrument the 'hang drum' which gives a subtle melodic wash over each and every track. This is certainly no chill out album or jazz album for that matter, they defy categorization, Isla deserves open ears and a leap of faith, listen to this album, it's brilliant! Electronic Beats (Germany)
  • Portico Quartet - Like Jazz. But Better! The Crack magazine describe the Portico Quartet as "A genuinely innovative proposition, with talent oozing out of every pore!" In anticipation for their performance at The Sage, Gateshead on 13th March www.thecrackmagazine.com (uk)
  • New limited Edition Four-Track EP, Abbey Road Those who were captivated by Portico Quartet's Isla Album will want to investigate the foursome's new limited edition four-track EP, Abbey Road. It includes three new non-album tunes, one of which has the questionable title Su-Bo's Mental Meltdown. Recordcollectormag.com (UK)
  • A Powerful Album ...these hang-toting ex-buskers return with a powerful album that trips and disarms expectations with its hook-laden aural assault...Jazz, classical, folk, funk and avant-garde flourishes all jostle in the mix, building to a torrent-like head on 'Clipper' that glowers in impressively menacing fashion...Now sounding like a serious band hell-bent on discovering just how far they can push their own sonic envelope, their album 'Isla' packs a mighty melodic punch. Time Out (UK)
  • A Second Mercury Nomination Shouldn't Be Out of the Question ...the four-piece have made a follow up that makes their beginnings busking on the South Bank seem like a myth propagated by publicists. Receiving a nod of approval for their pigeonhole-defying venture really has emboldened them. They've signed to Peter Gabriel's Real World imprint, brought in rock producer John Leckie (Radiohead's The Bends is among his many credits) and hit a brooding seam that sees the young band utilising fully a sound they stumbled upon last time. They're still wielding their percussive Hang ­- an instrument that looks like an upturned barbeque and sounds like a damped-down steel drum - but the intricate rhythms and twinkling melodies Nick Mulvey tickles from it give directions rather than drive Isla, for this is a moody territory overlaid with Jack Wylie's ghostly sax and subtle, shadowy electronics...in Portico's Balkan-infused melancholy, thrumming textures and skronking outbursts, it's a deeper, scarier world this time. A second Mercury nomination shouldn't be out of the question. BBC (UK)
  • Proudly Unique There is an ebb and flow to Isla and a timbral richness and warmth to Portico's sound that engulfs and woos the ears. Digested in its entirety the album reveals a coherent arch running throughout its nine tracks that aids the drama of the work. Despite Portico Quartet's reverence towards past masters and a shameless attitude to collecting new influences, Isla remains proudly unique and a totally individual work that shall in itself no doubt prove hugely influential to others in the future. Subba Cultcha (UK)
  • Can the Group Better It's Precocious Debut? Yes It Can ...Portico Quartet now releases that "difficult" second album. Can the group better its precocious debut? Yes it can. Portico has grown, as a collective entity and as individual musicians...The album is characterized by a brisk liveliness: even when a top line is slow and leisurely, as for instance in the extenuated soprano notes which state "Line," the underlying patterns played by the hangs and/or the drums and bass are frequently in double or quadruple time. Melodies are attractive and catchy. Rhythms are insistent. Improvisation is to the fore. Isla is the nuts. All About Jazz (UK)
  • Dense and Intelligent Music Question: How do you follow up the Mercury-nominated debut album 'Knee Deep In The North Sea Answer': Simple! release your second album 'Isla' and hey bingo there's your answer! It seems apparent there's no second album syndrome with this bunch, undaunted by critical acclaim. These bold young seem to take things well within their competent stride. Recorded at the famous Abbey Road studios and released on their new label (Peter Gabriel's) Real World. Things are on the up for these wistful melodists...This is dense and intelligent music with shimmering beauty and light. Blues and Soul (UK)
  • Like Jan Garbarek with Steve Reich At the 2004 WOMAD festival, Duncan Bellamy and Nick Mulvey came across a Hang, a small Swiss pan drum like a flying saucer. They built a sound-world around the instrument, adding double bass, drums and saxophone to produce something like Jan Garbarek with Steve Reich. This, their second album, produced by John Leckie, adds a string quartet but leaves the template unaltered. The highlight is 'Line', which starts with shimmering Hang and takes off on a saxophone journey. Financial Times (UK)
  • Understated Melody Having won a place on last year's Mercury shortlist with their debut album, the quirkily introspective group step up to the next test. Once again, the emphasis is on understated melody and the ethereal timbre of the trademark hang drums...Jack Wylie's saxophonic arabesques generate a ghostly ambience, and the spare use of electronica adds another layer of mist. Sunday Times (UK)
  • A Powerfully Atmospheric, Moody Masterpiece. This follow-up to their Mercury-nominated debut was produced by John Leckie. The result is a powerfully atmospheric, moody masterpiece mixing electronics with Jack Wylie's sax and Nick Mulvey's hang, which hovers at the album's heart. The brooding "Paper Scissors Stone" sets the tone for an enthralling, warmly enveloping musical journey. The Independent (The Information) (UK)
  • Brilliant. With 'Isla', produced by John Leckie, Portico have found their mojo: a thrumming, intensely textured and dynamic sound flowing between sax, bass, drums and hang. (Looks like a wok, sounds like a steel drum.) The subtle electronic shadowing and beefed-up bass recall EST, while the lead track traces a Balkan/Gypsy line and repetitious rhythmic measures reference Reichian minimalism without making you feel ill. All tracks are memorable and hang together like a suite. Brilliant. The Independent on Sunday (UK)
  • An Authentic Musical Force This quartet, featuring sax, bass, drums and hang (a Swiss version of the steel drum), won friends with their Mercury-nominated debut. This follow-up, recorded with the rock producer John Leckie, is a more ambitious offering that takes their gently mesmeric sound farther. 'Paper Scissors Stone' has a new urgency, 'Clipper' hints at free jazz and 'Line' builds on the hypnotic, Steve Reich-like qualities in their music...Porticos are proving to be an authentic musical force. The Times (Playlist) (UK)
  • Strong Simple Melodies A surprise choice on the 2008 Mercury shortlist, this south London outfit play melodic jazz on drums, double bass and saxophones, but their USP is an odd Swiss invention called the hang. This tuned metal drum can sound like an electric piano, a Caribbean steel pan or an Indonesian gamelan, and it gives Portico's music an otherworldly quality. Album No.2 sees them at Abbey Road with producer John Leckie, who steers Portico into pan-global territory: on Clipper and The Visitor, hypnotic rhythm tracks accompany ecstatic sax solos, while the chimes on Dawn Patrol resemble Pharaoh Saunders's Afro-jazz. Crucially, Portico haven't abandoned the strong, simple melodies that have lifted them from the jazz ghetto. Metro (UK)
  • A Distinctive Sound The ubiquitous use of the hang, a sophisticated modern take on the old-fashioned steel pan, gives a distinctive sound to this east London quartet. It's a surprisingly versatile instrument from which Nick Mulvey and Duncan Bellamy coax melodic and rhythmic patterns to complement Jack Wylie's inventive sax riffing. Elements of Terry Riley and Philip Glass mingle with the Coltrane and Miles influences - while tracks like 'Paper Scissors Stone' and 'Life Mask' shimmer with the kind of tunes and hooks seldom associated with the modern jazz idiom. Uncut (UK)
  • Mesmerising With a Mercury nomination behind them for their debut Knee Deep In The North Sea, they recorded their follow-up, Isla, at Abbey Road with John Leckie, a man who has nurtured The Stone Roses and Radiohead. Rock'n'roll credentials to die for, in other words. But while there's drum and bass aplenty to be found here, it's hypnotic, sultry and mesmerising in a way no guitar band could ever dream of being. Throughout Isla's nine tracks, the quartet's unique selling point - the echoing steel percussion instrument known as a hang - is foremost in the mix, providing gentle repetitive beats to lull its blissed out listeners into a sense of warm, velvety security. Music OMH (UK)
  • Sophisticated Sophisticated composing mixed with wonderful atmospherics and beautifully judged improvised departures abound on the second album from the London jazz collective. Full marks to star rock producer John Leckie (Stone Roses/The Fall) for bringing all aspects of the talented outfit - who served their apprenticeship busking in unusual outdoor spaces - into bloom. The Mirror (UK)
  • Rich, Rewarding and Thought-Provoking ...this retains its musical integrity but reaches beyond jazz to skirt the outer shores of ambient electronica and modern classical; even the sort of harmonic arpeggios used by Radiohead...this is a rich, rewarding, thought-provoking listen. The Skinny (UK)
  • An Absolute Joy ...this John Leckie produced album is an absolute joy to listen to...the sumptuous 'Clipper' expands on Sebastien Tellier's 'La Ritournelle'. The hang's steely presence tethers the airy trills of the wind instruments, then becomes mesmerising on the hypnotic 'Line'. 'Isla' is full of depth and detail. I'd play it to anyone.' Word (UK)
  • Genuinely Innovative ...when something comes along that's genuinely innovative, it can come as something as a shock. There isn't a band that sounds remotely like them...with 'Isla', their much-anticipated second album, Portico have exceeded the unreasonable expectations prompted by their impressive debut...Produced by John Leckie (Doves, Radiohead, the Stone Roses), and released on Peter Gabriel's Real World, it is more focused and better executed than 'Knee Deep in the North Sea'. You only have to listen to songs such as 'Line' or 'The Visitor' - on which Mulvey's gently pulsating chromium ostinato suggests Balinese gamelan going walkabout with a Jamaican steel drum band - to realise their music has gained much in creativity. Fitzpatrick's delicately poised bass and "less is more" ethic is the linchpin of the group's sound, contrasting with Wyllie's suave soprano sax as it unravels lines of increasing complexity. He stands out, particularly, on Paper Scissors Stone, the haunting opener which draws you slowly in, until it takes up residence in your brain...There may be only 12 notes in the well-tempered scale but people are still finding new and interesting ways of using them... Observer Music Monthly (UK)
  • Defies Categorisation The story of the Portico Quartet is a fascinating one, not least because it describes how four talented (very) young (British) musicians have grown into one of the world's most creative instrumental groups. Debut album KNEE DEEP IN THE NORTH SEA for me remains one of the most justified nominations for the Mercury Music prize (for several years) and by rights should have won. In a great album release year so far, ISLA, if entered, could finally secure it. ISLA almost defies categorisation in that the guys have gathered inspiration from a variety of cultures and genres (not least jazz and classical). Their use of the percussive instrument, the hang, and great skill in being able to coax lyrical 'vocal' performances from their more conventional instruments has to be heard to be believed. But perhaps the group's major achievement is to compose and perform music that vies with some of the world's greatest contemporary composers, and yet is so accessible. Opening track 'Paper Scissors Stone' is a wonderful example. Delicately plucked double bass and wandering piano notes introduce the song in such a way that one is anxiously waiting for what comes next. And what comes next is Jack Wylie's soprano sax playing that weaves the most magical spell as it winds its way around the most subtle bass rhythm. These guys have an ear for a melody and through John Leckie's expert production (of what is effectively a live one-take recording), the reproduction of a great song and performance is stunningly good. 'The Visitor' is a darker piece with an eerie opening and again the double bass playing a major part. The piano appears to play a rhythmic role here with the hang also playing an important part in providing an Eastern influence. Towards the end the sax soars and sings, drums improvise and the Hang bubbles away in the background as a major crescendo is finally reached before the song finally, quietly fades away. 'Dawn Patrol' offers even more adventure with superb percussion, drums, double bass and screaming sax eventually giving away to tumbling piano notes. Hell, it's so difficult to pick a favourite track here but this has to be one of the contenders… Gamelan style sounds, courtesy of the hang, provide a long intro to 'Line', a song that creates an image of a pier stretching miles out into the see with seagulls soaring along it, and occasionally transversing from one side to the other. It's a relentless, almost monotone sound with flashes of hang, sax and bass creating momentary respite. This reminds me of Steve Reich's beguiling work, and is superb. I could go on about the remaining brilliant (and often moving) songs and performances on this album - the diversity of sound and mood, etc. - but I would bore you with the endless wonder and praise I would heap on these brilliant young musicians and their producer. But, I can sum the album up as one of the most important contemporary instrumental albums emenating from these shores for very many years. It's therefore essential listening to anyone who takes their music seriously; a contemporary and accessible masterpiece; and one wonders just where and how far these guys will go… the mind boggles. Shakenstir (UK)
  • Brooding Ambience ...the follow-up to the Mercury debut has a brooding ambience...it also demonstrates, to the nay-sayers especially, the young lad's commitment to evolving and creative music-making. Bass and drums are high in the mix and hints of electronics and string overdubs have added a haunting sonic texture in places. The hang is still Portico's secret weapon though, a Swiss-made hand drum that chimes with an ethereal, as much as hypnotic, presence this time round...this highly atmospheric album stands on its on merits. Jazzwise (UK)
  • Exotic and Hypnotic If any group demonstrates the glorious eclecticism of the modern music fan it's Portico Quartet. Based in east London, this twenty-something foursome display a knowledge of jazz, modern-classical, electronic and world music that would shame someone twice their age...The plaintive gamelan clang of the hang might still be central, but under the direction of producer John Leckie, and filtered through the venerable ambience of Abbey Road Studio Two, Isla feeds on Steve Reich mathematics, Radiohead dread, African desert grooves and ECM northern melancholy to travel into a new, chiming cavernous sound-world that is both exotic and hypnotic. Mojo (UK)
  • Has jazz running through it's veins It's apt that Portico Quartet used to jam in club chill-out lounges, since their soothing, hypnotic music has many of the same qualities of high-grade electronica. Richer and more rewarding than their Mercury-nominated breakthrough, Isla still has jazz running through it's veins, based as it is largely around sax and double bass, but the London band have broader ambitions. The hang, an instrument vaguely akin to a steel drum, adds wisps of African flavour, and these nine instrumentals boast a melodic accessibility and cinematic scope as liable to woo Radiohead fans as patrons of Ronnie Scott's. Q (UK)