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Knee Deep in the North Sea

Artist: Portico Quartet
Portico Quartet - Knee Deep in the North Sea CD
Label: WEA
Regular Price: $11.95
On Sale For: $4.78 
Year: 2011
Format: CD

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This year's jazz nomination for the Mercury Music Prize, Knee-Deep in the North Sea deserved all the praise thrown its way. From veterans it would have impressed, but coming from a group of young men making their debut, it's simply outstanding. Jack Wyllie's saxophone is distinctive enough, especially the soprano, ranging from the wistful to the dissonant. But the ear is repeatedly drawn to some unusual tones, sometimes harp-like, sometimes closer to a bell, that make up the tinkling arpeggios of the title track and the percussive strikes on "Steps in the Wrong Direction". These are produced on a modern percussion instrument called a Hang (the Quartet does not include a pianist), perhaps best compared to a tuned steel drum and invented in 2000 by a couple from Berne in Switzerland. ("Hang" is the local dialect word for "hand", the appendage used to play the thing). Drummer Duncan Bellamy came across one for sale at a festival and it soon became an integral part of the Quartet's sound. In the hands of Nick Mulvey it adds a subtle exoticism to pieces like "The Kon Tiki Expedition" and the forceful "(Something's Going Down On) Zavodovski Island". "Cittagazze" and "Pompidou" are more formal, showing an obvious classical influence. Tough jazzbos they aren't--this is undeniably a gentle and often cerebral record in a European tradition--but the Portico Quartet are skilled and imaginative beyond their years. --Steve Jelbert
ARTISTS
Jack Wyllie (saxophones); Milo Fitzpatrick (double bass); Duncan Bellamy (drums, hang); Nick Mulvey (hang)
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