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Partikel - Partikel Quartet, Leam Jazz, Leamington Rugby Club, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, 17/06/2015. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys an astonishing performance by Partikel with Benet McLean on violin and takes a look at their superb new album "String Theory". Support from the Alex Thompson Duo.

Partikel Quartet, Leam Jazz, Leamington Rugby Club, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, 17/06/2015.

The Jazzmann was among the first commentators to pick up on the potential of Partikel , the London based trio led by saxophonist and composer Duncan Eagles. The group’s eponymous début album, released on F-ire Presents in 2010, offered a refreshingly contemporary take on the art of the saxophone trio with some memorable tunes, great playing and superior production values leavening Eagles’ sometimes complex compositional ideas. It was a record that charmed and intrigued in equal measure, something that Partikel have remained adept at ever since.

The trio, also featuring bassist Max Luthert and drummer/percussionist Eric Ford, built upon their breakthrough success with their second album “Cohesion”, ( Whirlwind Recordings)  which was released in 2012. The title seemed appropriate, “Cohesion” seemed to be even more of a band album with Luthert and Ford playing an even greater part in the overall group sound and also becoming more involved in the writing and arranging process.

The success of the trio’s recordings was backed up by their exciting live shows. Their rapport had been built on their hosting of the regular Monday night jam sessions at The Hideaway in Streatham, London and they had no difficulty in transferring their unique group chemistry into more formal concert and festival situations. I saw them give a blistering performance at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2011 in what had initially seemed like an unpromising early lunchtime slot.  Subsequently I’ve seen similarly assured and exciting performances at The Hive in Shrewsbury and the much missed (as a jazz venue) Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock.

Each Partikel album has represented a clear progression and in 2015 the group have taken a giant leap forward with their latest offering “String Theory” (Whirlwind) which takes the radical step of augmenting the now familiar Partikel sound with the additional instrumental voices of a string quartet led by the extraordinary Benet McLean, a musician better known as a jazz pianist and vocalist. With the exception of an arrangement of the standard “Body and Soul”  virtually all the compositions and arrangements are by Eagles and the album represents a considerable triumph for the young saxophonist, particularly with regard to the way the strings have been fully integrated into Partikel’s already well established soundworld. The album sounds like the work of a fully homogeneous septet rather than “jazz trio plus string quartet”.

The album is a brilliant realisation of all the ambitions and objectives Eagles had for the project. In a recent interview for the May 2015 edition of Jazzwise magazine with Daniel Spicer he explained “this time we thought we would do something a bit different, still keeping the essence of what we’d built up while adding something that would make the sound a bit bigger, but with no chordal or comping instrument as such”. He continued ” from the beginning there was something right at the front of my mind - not making it sound like two separate ensembles or to use the strings like backing or padding - instead there’s a sense that the strings are kind of with us, so it’s more like a seven piece band”.

It was the first time that Eagles has written for strings and the success of the album is a terrific tribute to his abilities. Eagles is keen to acknowledge the role McLean has played in the successful realisation of the project. Both Eagles and Luthert have played in McLean’s band for years but with no knowledge of his abilities as a violinist. Following an aborted recording attempt with another string section Eagles phoned McLean for advice - “I’ll do it!” said McLean and promptly rounded up the string quartet to be heard on this record featuring second violinist David Le Page, violist Carmen Flores and cellist Matthew Sharp. It turns out that McLean is a classically trained violinist , starting on the instrument at the age of six and only moving to piano, and subsequently singing, much later. The way in which he came to be so crucially involved in the success of “String Theory” makes for one hell of a story.

As the album, and subsequently tonight’s performance, proved McLean is a brilliant violinist, skilfully marshalling the string quartet and also producing a dazzling series of violin solos on his own account. With McLean effectively acting as the bridge between the classical and improvised worlds “String Theory” is one of the most successful jazz/classical collaborations I’ve heard, a genuinely convincing hybrid that follows in the footsteps of cellist Ben Davis’  Basquiat Strings,  trumpeter Laura Jurd’s “Landing Ground” album, and “Juntos”, the collaboration between the duo of pianist Andrew McCormack and saxophonist Jason Yarde with the members of the Elysian Quartet. 

The album launch took place at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club on June 2nd 2015 and featured the full seven piece ensemble that appears on the album. The project is still touring but for economic reasons has been scaled back to a four piece, the “Partikel Quartet”, featuring Eagles, Luthert and Ford plus McLean on violin. The four piece opens yet more musical possibilities with McLean enjoying a greater freedom in his lone violinist role and with Ford being able to play with more energy and force without the worry of overpowering the predominately classical players of the string quartet. The muscular McLean proved to be more than capable of looking after himself!

One of the first gigs for the Partikel Quartet was at Leam Jazz, the club run by John Hodgetts and Stuart Duthie, both of whom are bass players with various local groups. Now in its fifth season Leam Jazz holds regular events plus an annual festival at the Club House of Leamington Rugby Club. The programme includes jazz acts from right across the Midlands plus London based touring bands such as Partikel. I found the atmosphere very welcoming and I thank John and Stuart for providing my wife and I with “comps” for tonight’s event, but in any event ticket prices at Leam Jazz represent terrific value for money, usually £6.00 per head which covers both the main act and a local support band. For a band of the quality of Partikel this must rate as one of the best bargains around!

In a way Partikel represented something of a departure for a club whose programme is certainly not unadventurous but nevertheless is generally a little bit more mainstream. One suspects that they were probably the personal selection of Stuart Duthie who is obviously a big fan of the band and had travelled down to London for the album launch event at Pizza Express. He announced the band before handing the reins over to Duncan Eagles.

The quartet began with an attention grabbing intensity and conviction on the three part “Clash of the Clans” suite which also opens the “String Theory” album. This was no polite chamber jazz, the first impression one got was of just how loud this group was in the relatively compact confines of the Club House bar, especially with McLean’s amplified violin and Ford’s monster drum kit incorporating udu, foot operated cowbell and an impressively large array of cymbals.

“Clash of the Clans” began explosively with McLean deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques on his violin and Ford assaulting his various items of percussion with an obvious relish. Eventually some kind of structure emerged and we were treated to extended solos from Eagles on tenor sax and McLean on violin, both of them virtuoso displays of technique but both fully integrated into the narrative arc of the suite and the taut nature of Eagles’ writing. McLean even threw in a couple of Stephane Grapelli style quotes as he gave a nod to the history of the jazz violin.
Luthert’s solo bass interlude introduced the more impressionistic “Seeking Shadows”, the second part of the “Clash of the Clans” suite his playing augmented by Ford’s evocative cymbal work and Eagles’ wispy sax melodies. This in turn segued into the equally atmospheric “Midnight Mass”, the final part of the trilogy. Taken as a whole the suite seemed to depict the turbulence and savagery of battle followed by its aftermath. A stunning start.

“Shimmer” follows the “Clash of the Clans” suite on the album and did so again here. Introduced by Ford on udu this was an intensely rhythmic piece filled with the complex, interlocking patterns of percussion,  pizzicato violin and double bass but allied to typically strong and memorable melodies. McLean opened the soloing, his playing intense and technically brilliant. Eagles displayed a similar power and fluency on tenor and the piece was climaxed by a hard hitting drum feature from the ebullient Ford. Terrific stuff.

Also from the album “Wray Common” was introduced by Luthert’s solo bass, subsequently joined by Ford on udu and foot operated cow bell and bass drum plus McLean’s percussive bowing.  Eagles’ beguiling sax melodies snaked around all this and he shared the subsequent solos with Luthert at the bass.

To close the first set the quartet adopted a more straight ahead jazz feel on “Bartering With Bob”, yet another piece sourced from the new album. The tune is dedicated to Bob Barter, a veteran jazz pianist from South London who has been an influence on the band, particularly Eric Ford. Structured more as a “blowing vehicle” the piece was a platform for exciting solos from Eagles on tenor, McLean, Luthert and Ford. An exciting end to an often brilliant first half.

Set two saw the Partikel Quartet moving away from the “String Theory” album repertoire. The first piece to be heard was an arrangement by Luthert of Paganini’s “Violin Sonata No. 6” that had undoubtedly been inspired by the “String Theory” project. The solos here came from Eagles on soprano sax and McLean on violin, their melodies underscored by an intriguing bass and udu rhythmic undertow.

The “Cohesion” album was revisited with the group reworking two of its pieces to accommodate McLean’s violin. First we heard “The Blood Of The Pharaoh” which was introduced by Ford’s drums and then featured an engaging dialogue between the percussionist and McLean on violin. Tenor sax and violin then intertwined before an Eagles tenor solo punctuated by Ford’s drum explosions on a piece full of rich dynamic contrasts.

Luthert’s bass then introduced “Market Place” and subsequently provided a strong rhythmic groove as Eagles and McLean doubled up on the folk tinged melody. Eagles then delivered an increasingly incisive solo on soprano followed by McLean on violin.

One of the few pieces on the new album not credited to Eagles is the solo violin introduction to the tune “Buffalo”. Composed, or possibly improvised, by McLean the extended solo violin intro also heralded Eagles’ tune here. McLean had been brilliant throughout but this set piece was particularly jaw dropping. “Buffalo” itself was an engaging and highly melodic tune featuring Eagles on soprano and an engaging rhythmic backdrop featuring Ford’s pattering udu and Luthert’s powerful bass grooves. 

The performance ended with “The Landing”, the final track on the new record, which saw Eagles moving back to tenor and sharing the solos with McLean on one of the album’s most evocative tracks, impressionistic and atmospheric one moment, bursting animatedly into vibrant life at others.

Although there was to be no encore the Leamington audience responded well to this complex but always stimulating music and to the extraordinary skills of the four musicians. For me McLean was a total revelation, I’d not seen him before in any context but his playing here was frequently astonishing. He tells me that this project has rekindled his interest in the violin and that he is now beginning to think of it as his “first instrument” again.

As for Eagles he has commented that the success of the String Theory project has encouraged him to bring other elements to Partikel, an experiment with added electronics may be next on the agenda.

We heard most of the “String Theory” album tonight with the exception of the remarkable remake of “Body And Soul” and the tracks “The River” and “Cover”, all of which match the remarkably high standards set by the rest of the record.

Prior to the Partikel performance we had been entertained by a duo led by the young local pianist and vocalist Alex Thompson. This talented young man plays keyboards with Hodgetts’ octet Cellar 8 and is also the musical director for a number of local am-dram productions in the Warwickshire area. He was joined by the even more youthful George on cajon for a short set that included the songs “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and “The Lady Is A Tramp” , the latter inspired by recorded versions by Gregory Porter and Chet Baker. George mainly played cajon with brushes but used open hands to generate a harder edged sound on the gospel flavoured “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”. Thompson’s singing became increasingly assured as the set progressed and the songs were punctuated by occasional scat vocal episodes. Thompson, a grade eight piano student, also performed two instrumental pieces, “My Favourite Things”, no doubt inspired by John Coltrane,  and a version of Oscar Peterson’s technically challenging “Hallelujah Time”. The young duo proved very popular with their home town crowd and were rewarded with an encore, a final instrumental in the shape of Miles Davis’ “All Blues”.

The next event at Leam Jazz will be the annual festival on July 5th which will begin at 2.00 pm and feature Cellar 8, Latin jazz group Loco Mundo and Leicester’s The Dan Quartet who will be playing the music of Steely Dan. The festival will be headlined by saxophonist Mornington Lockett and there will also be a Vocalist’s Showcase featuring three different singer plus a post festival jam session. All this for £6.00 represents a genuine bargain. For details of this plus the regular club nights please visit the Leam Jazz website http://www.leam-jazz.com

The Partikel Quartet are currently still on tour with the “String Theory” album with further dates as follows; 

26 June - The Verdict, Brighton
28 June - Ashburton Live, Devon
29 June - North Devon Jazz Club
1 July - Fisher Theatre, Bungay, Suffolk

The album “String Theory” is highly recommended.

 

Partikel Quartet, Leam Jazz, Leamington Rugby Club, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, 17/06/2015.

Partikel

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Partikel Quartet, Leam Jazz, Leamington Rugby Club, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, 17/06/2015.

Ian Mann enjoys an astonishing performance by Partikel with Benet McLean on violin and takes a look at their superb new album "String Theory". Support from the Alex Thompson Duo.

Partikel Quartet, Leam Jazz, Leamington Rugby Club, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, 17/06/2015.

The Jazzmann was among the first commentators to pick up on the potential of Partikel , the London based trio led by saxophonist and composer Duncan Eagles. The group’s eponymous début album, released on F-ire Presents in 2010, offered a refreshingly contemporary take on the art of the saxophone trio with some memorable tunes, great playing and superior production values leavening Eagles’ sometimes complex compositional ideas. It was a record that charmed and intrigued in equal measure, something that Partikel have remained adept at ever since.

The trio, also featuring bassist Max Luthert and drummer/percussionist Eric Ford, built upon their breakthrough success with their second album “Cohesion”, ( Whirlwind Recordings)  which was released in 2012. The title seemed appropriate, “Cohesion” seemed to be even more of a band album with Luthert and Ford playing an even greater part in the overall group sound and also becoming more involved in the writing and arranging process.

The success of the trio’s recordings was backed up by their exciting live shows. Their rapport had been built on their hosting of the regular Monday night jam sessions at The Hideaway in Streatham, London and they had no difficulty in transferring their unique group chemistry into more formal concert and festival situations. I saw them give a blistering performance at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2011 in what had initially seemed like an unpromising early lunchtime slot.  Subsequently I’ve seen similarly assured and exciting performances at The Hive in Shrewsbury and the much missed (as a jazz venue) Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock.

Each Partikel album has represented a clear progression and in 2015 the group have taken a giant leap forward with their latest offering “String Theory” (Whirlwind) which takes the radical step of augmenting the now familiar Partikel sound with the additional instrumental voices of a string quartet led by the extraordinary Benet McLean, a musician better known as a jazz pianist and vocalist. With the exception of an arrangement of the standard “Body and Soul”  virtually all the compositions and arrangements are by Eagles and the album represents a considerable triumph for the young saxophonist, particularly with regard to the way the strings have been fully integrated into Partikel’s already well established soundworld. The album sounds like the work of a fully homogeneous septet rather than “jazz trio plus string quartet”.

The album is a brilliant realisation of all the ambitions and objectives Eagles had for the project. In a recent interview for the May 2015 edition of Jazzwise magazine with Daniel Spicer he explained “this time we thought we would do something a bit different, still keeping the essence of what we’d built up while adding something that would make the sound a bit bigger, but with no chordal or comping instrument as such”. He continued ” from the beginning there was something right at the front of my mind - not making it sound like two separate ensembles or to use the strings like backing or padding - instead there’s a sense that the strings are kind of with us, so it’s more like a seven piece band”.

It was the first time that Eagles has written for strings and the success of the album is a terrific tribute to his abilities. Eagles is keen to acknowledge the role McLean has played in the successful realisation of the project. Both Eagles and Luthert have played in McLean’s band for years but with no knowledge of his abilities as a violinist. Following an aborted recording attempt with another string section Eagles phoned McLean for advice - “I’ll do it!” said McLean and promptly rounded up the string quartet to be heard on this record featuring second violinist David Le Page, violist Carmen Flores and cellist Matthew Sharp. It turns out that McLean is a classically trained violinist , starting on the instrument at the age of six and only moving to piano, and subsequently singing, much later. The way in which he came to be so crucially involved in the success of “String Theory” makes for one hell of a story.

As the album, and subsequently tonight’s performance, proved McLean is a brilliant violinist, skilfully marshalling the string quartet and also producing a dazzling series of violin solos on his own account. With McLean effectively acting as the bridge between the classical and improvised worlds “String Theory” is one of the most successful jazz/classical collaborations I’ve heard, a genuinely convincing hybrid that follows in the footsteps of cellist Ben Davis’  Basquiat Strings,  trumpeter Laura Jurd’s “Landing Ground” album, and “Juntos”, the collaboration between the duo of pianist Andrew McCormack and saxophonist Jason Yarde with the members of the Elysian Quartet. 

The album launch took place at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club on June 2nd 2015 and featured the full seven piece ensemble that appears on the album. The project is still touring but for economic reasons has been scaled back to a four piece, the “Partikel Quartet”, featuring Eagles, Luthert and Ford plus McLean on violin. The four piece opens yet more musical possibilities with McLean enjoying a greater freedom in his lone violinist role and with Ford being able to play with more energy and force without the worry of overpowering the predominately classical players of the string quartet. The muscular McLean proved to be more than capable of looking after himself!

One of the first gigs for the Partikel Quartet was at Leam Jazz, the club run by John Hodgetts and Stuart Duthie, both of whom are bass players with various local groups. Now in its fifth season Leam Jazz holds regular events plus an annual festival at the Club House of Leamington Rugby Club. The programme includes jazz acts from right across the Midlands plus London based touring bands such as Partikel. I found the atmosphere very welcoming and I thank John and Stuart for providing my wife and I with “comps” for tonight’s event, but in any event ticket prices at Leam Jazz represent terrific value for money, usually £6.00 per head which covers both the main act and a local support band. For a band of the quality of Partikel this must rate as one of the best bargains around!

In a way Partikel represented something of a departure for a club whose programme is certainly not unadventurous but nevertheless is generally a little bit more mainstream. One suspects that they were probably the personal selection of Stuart Duthie who is obviously a big fan of the band and had travelled down to London for the album launch event at Pizza Express. He announced the band before handing the reins over to Duncan Eagles.

The quartet began with an attention grabbing intensity and conviction on the three part “Clash of the Clans” suite which also opens the “String Theory” album. This was no polite chamber jazz, the first impression one got was of just how loud this group was in the relatively compact confines of the Club House bar, especially with McLean’s amplified violin and Ford’s monster drum kit incorporating udu, foot operated cowbell and an impressively large array of cymbals.

“Clash of the Clans” began explosively with McLean deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques on his violin and Ford assaulting his various items of percussion with an obvious relish. Eventually some kind of structure emerged and we were treated to extended solos from Eagles on tenor sax and McLean on violin, both of them virtuoso displays of technique but both fully integrated into the narrative arc of the suite and the taut nature of Eagles’ writing. McLean even threw in a couple of Stephane Grapelli style quotes as he gave a nod to the history of the jazz violin.
Luthert’s solo bass interlude introduced the more impressionistic “Seeking Shadows”, the second part of the “Clash of the Clans” suite his playing augmented by Ford’s evocative cymbal work and Eagles’ wispy sax melodies. This in turn segued into the equally atmospheric “Midnight Mass”, the final part of the trilogy. Taken as a whole the suite seemed to depict the turbulence and savagery of battle followed by its aftermath. A stunning start.

“Shimmer” follows the “Clash of the Clans” suite on the album and did so again here. Introduced by Ford on udu this was an intensely rhythmic piece filled with the complex, interlocking patterns of percussion,  pizzicato violin and double bass but allied to typically strong and memorable melodies. McLean opened the soloing, his playing intense and technically brilliant. Eagles displayed a similar power and fluency on tenor and the piece was climaxed by a hard hitting drum feature from the ebullient Ford. Terrific stuff.

Also from the album “Wray Common” was introduced by Luthert’s solo bass, subsequently joined by Ford on udu and foot operated cow bell and bass drum plus McLean’s percussive bowing.  Eagles’ beguiling sax melodies snaked around all this and he shared the subsequent solos with Luthert at the bass.

To close the first set the quartet adopted a more straight ahead jazz feel on “Bartering With Bob”, yet another piece sourced from the new album. The tune is dedicated to Bob Barter, a veteran jazz pianist from South London who has been an influence on the band, particularly Eric Ford. Structured more as a “blowing vehicle” the piece was a platform for exciting solos from Eagles on tenor, McLean, Luthert and Ford. An exciting end to an often brilliant first half.

Set two saw the Partikel Quartet moving away from the “String Theory” album repertoire. The first piece to be heard was an arrangement by Luthert of Paganini’s “Violin Sonata No. 6” that had undoubtedly been inspired by the “String Theory” project. The solos here came from Eagles on soprano sax and McLean on violin, their melodies underscored by an intriguing bass and udu rhythmic undertow.

The “Cohesion” album was revisited with the group reworking two of its pieces to accommodate McLean’s violin. First we heard “The Blood Of The Pharaoh” which was introduced by Ford’s drums and then featured an engaging dialogue between the percussionist and McLean on violin. Tenor sax and violin then intertwined before an Eagles tenor solo punctuated by Ford’s drum explosions on a piece full of rich dynamic contrasts.

Luthert’s bass then introduced “Market Place” and subsequently provided a strong rhythmic groove as Eagles and McLean doubled up on the folk tinged melody. Eagles then delivered an increasingly incisive solo on soprano followed by McLean on violin.

One of the few pieces on the new album not credited to Eagles is the solo violin introduction to the tune “Buffalo”. Composed, or possibly improvised, by McLean the extended solo violin intro also heralded Eagles’ tune here. McLean had been brilliant throughout but this set piece was particularly jaw dropping. “Buffalo” itself was an engaging and highly melodic tune featuring Eagles on soprano and an engaging rhythmic backdrop featuring Ford’s pattering udu and Luthert’s powerful bass grooves. 

The performance ended with “The Landing”, the final track on the new record, which saw Eagles moving back to tenor and sharing the solos with McLean on one of the album’s most evocative tracks, impressionistic and atmospheric one moment, bursting animatedly into vibrant life at others.

Although there was to be no encore the Leamington audience responded well to this complex but always stimulating music and to the extraordinary skills of the four musicians. For me McLean was a total revelation, I’d not seen him before in any context but his playing here was frequently astonishing. He tells me that this project has rekindled his interest in the violin and that he is now beginning to think of it as his “first instrument” again.

As for Eagles he has commented that the success of the String Theory project has encouraged him to bring other elements to Partikel, an experiment with added electronics may be next on the agenda.

We heard most of the “String Theory” album tonight with the exception of the remarkable remake of “Body And Soul” and the tracks “The River” and “Cover”, all of which match the remarkably high standards set by the rest of the record.

Prior to the Partikel performance we had been entertained by a duo led by the young local pianist and vocalist Alex Thompson. This talented young man plays keyboards with Hodgetts’ octet Cellar 8 and is also the musical director for a number of local am-dram productions in the Warwickshire area. He was joined by the even more youthful George on cajon for a short set that included the songs “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and “The Lady Is A Tramp” , the latter inspired by recorded versions by Gregory Porter and Chet Baker. George mainly played cajon with brushes but used open hands to generate a harder edged sound on the gospel flavoured “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”. Thompson’s singing became increasingly assured as the set progressed and the songs were punctuated by occasional scat vocal episodes. Thompson, a grade eight piano student, also performed two instrumental pieces, “My Favourite Things”, no doubt inspired by John Coltrane,  and a version of Oscar Peterson’s technically challenging “Hallelujah Time”. The young duo proved very popular with their home town crowd and were rewarded with an encore, a final instrumental in the shape of Miles Davis’ “All Blues”.

The next event at Leam Jazz will be the annual festival on July 5th which will begin at 2.00 pm and feature Cellar 8, Latin jazz group Loco Mundo and Leicester’s The Dan Quartet who will be playing the music of Steely Dan. The festival will be headlined by saxophonist Mornington Lockett and there will also be a Vocalist’s Showcase featuring three different singer plus a post festival jam session. All this for £6.00 represents a genuine bargain. For details of this plus the regular club nights please visit the Leam Jazz website http://www.leam-jazz.com

The Partikel Quartet are currently still on tour with the “String Theory” album with further dates as follows; 

26 June - The Verdict, Brighton
28 June - Ashburton Live, Devon
29 June - North Devon Jazz Club
1 July - Fisher Theatre, Bungay, Suffolk

The album “String Theory” is highly recommended.

 


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