For those of you that haven’t heard of them, Portico Quartet are a jazz band hailing from London, UK. They established themselves as a fairly uncharacteristic group, incorporating electronic textures into their music and approaching their song structures with a downtempo and post-rock-influenced mindset. It quickly became noticeable that with each release, the band were continuously refining their craft and looking for new ways to take their sound further. Enter Memory Streams, the culmination of fifteen years of development as a group. This album is easily the band’s most solid on literally all levels.
First of all, even the title bodes so well with the tunes that it’s stunning. The record really imbues that impossible-to-pin-down feeling one has when gliding through numerous streams of ample past recollections into its fabric. It does this so well that one can’t help but drift away atop the wash of reverb that splashes everything. There is also a dreamlike vibe, crystallized by the ethereal keyboards, which gives the whole emotional delivery an impressive depth and level of detail.
I feel like the emotive display shines brightest on “Offset” – the hypnotic groove of the song, matched by the strongly nostalgic timbre of the saxophone, brings out a truly enchanting atmosphere that can’t be justly encompassed in words. On “Offset”, as much as on the rest of the album, we can see how layering simple but amply textured lines à la post-rock pays off beautifully. On the other hand, the most immediately visible straight-up jazz parts will transpire on “Immediately Visible”. This one also manages to make its slow-burning build-up worth the wait, because it closes the album with a nice climax.
There is a very keen balance between the more texture-based deliveries (as seen on “Gradient”) and the more groove-oriented ones observable on “With, Besides, Against”, for example. This can also pop up even within the same song, as I underlined above for “Offset”. Another balance that is extremely well fleshed-out is how all the different styles present on Memory Streams merge into one cohesive and organic whole. I don’t think I’ve heard a jazz band incorporate influences from post-rock, electronic music, and ambient music with such elegance and creative prowess.
The way the whole record flows from beginning to end is a very clearly drawn path, handled with great attention to detail. It is one thing how each song flows from start to finish, but as several laps around the record conclude, everything assumes a slightly different meaning in perspective. Each song has a little story of its own, and all these little stories melt together to create a much greater thing altogether. This is partly achieved by the dynamic variety of the songs (and the album, respectively).
Memory Streams is a charming experience. It goes deep down within and up all the way through the skies into the vast blue, firmly rooted in the ground while floating in the air. It’s not exactly easy to describe how it does that, but it’s safe to say that it is an enchanting trip. Portico Quartet have successfully made a riveting record that juggles smoothness and energy in a very elegant manner. Listen to Memory Streams now, you won’t regret it one bit!