Portico Quartet, Rough Trade East, London

4.00

Get yourself down to the National Theatre without delay. There's a good chance that you might catch Portico Quartet busking outside it. To see this genre-defying south London four-piece is to witness four young, very talented instrumentalists crafting sounds like you've never heard. Besides, how many Mercury Prize nominees do you know who still work the streets?

An intimate crowd assembled for another free gig in Rough Trade East, the now award-winning Brick Lane record store. In the heart of London's über-cool east, 50 seated Shoreditch fashionistas, plus a gabble of standing aficionados and casual shoppers, were treated to 45 minutes of songs from Portico Quartet's critically acclaimed album Knee-Deep in the North Sea – with three new tracks thrown in, too.

For those who've never heard Portico Quartet, the band's sound revolves around the hang, like a steel drum only with more of a dull oomph to it. Having picked it up at Womad, Portico experimented – playing with hands and mallets – and eventually made the sound their signature.

The hang is used by front man Nick Mulvey for different effects: to lilt the beautiful melodies of the album's title track; to whip up the mesmeric drones of "Steps in the Wrong Direction"; and to thrash out catchy, infectious hooks as on the accomplished "Cittagazze", where drummer Duncan Bellamy joins in, also playing on a hang, and double bassist Milo Fitzpatrick pats out a rhythm on the body of his upright.

All of which is to say nothing of the majestic saxophone played by Jack Wyllie. For listeners attracted by Portico's minimalism, its gentle chord progressions and its African rhythms, the sax will be the most difficult presence to get used to. That's jazz, they say. But, aside from some astounding, attention-grabbing solos, it's easy to forget that Wyllie is there at all, busting a gut on soprano as the sound is used to such good effect it simply adds another layer to this musically complex whole.

Each performer has the freedom of spirit that his jazz roots demand; yet the sound they produce has a strange, comforting simplicity to it. And if tonight's selection is anything to go by, the band's new material is even better than Knee-Deep. Gone is some of the whimsy that crept on to that album, to be replaced by pared-down hypnotism. Much more attention seems to have been paid to the art of building and releasing tension.

Yes, there were times when the group appeared to lose its way. Elements of timing and tuning were botched. But they always came back together. They always returned to that grass-roots, organic sound that has taken them from the South Bank, via intimate venues like this, to – who knows: Mercury Music triumph?

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk