Portico Quartet plus Basquiat Strings - Union Chapel, London Friday 22 February

Basquiat Strings take the starkness of modern classical music and wrap it around a subtly pervading jazz beat.  But while they maintain the haunting quality of classical string music, they generate an atmosphere which is constantly disconcerting and pleasantly surprising.
Portico Quartet plus Basquiat Strings - Union Chapel, London Friday 22 February
The string quintet were backed by Seb Rochford on drums and their alternately sonorous and jerky string sound was perfectly suited to the cavernous interior of London Union Chapel.  Beginning with rhythmically based ‘Forceful Beast’, their progression to newer tunes such as ‘Bobbette 2’ highlighted an increased bravery to embrace delicate moments of silence.

With an audience mainly in attendance to hear Portico Quartet’s soothing melodies, the most obvious appreciation was bestowed upon Basquiat String’s ‘Double Dares’, which found real points of unity and was the first piece to allow Rochford to take the lead.

The acoustics of the Chapel were less forgiving to Portico’s Jack Wyllie as he fought with the echoes and eventually tamed the unruly resonance of his soprano sax.  By the time the band played a medley of ‘Monsoon Top to Bottom’ and ‘Steps in the Wrong Direction’ the whole group had conquered the space and coaxed along some well rounded melodies.

Interestingly new song, ‘Johnson’s Gone West’, saw less crowd support - perhaps testament to the fact that Portico’s music continuously flirts with the repetitive rhythms of alternative rock, and that repetition in their music inevitably leads to a satisfying climax.  There were certainly some deep bass lines that seemed particularly Radioheadesque.

Basquiat Strings were clearly more technically adept than Portico, demonstrating absolute mastery over complicated harmonics and double stopping, but both groups took the opportunity to fill the Chapel’s unique space with a real passion for jazz forms and some wonderfully individual solos of exploration.

Catherine Marks