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Partisans - Swamp Rating: 4-5 out of 5 The release of a new album by Partisans is always a major event and "Swamp" is as good as everything else they've recorded.

Partisans

“Swamp”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR 4657)

The release of a new album by Partisans is always a major event. “Swamp” may be only the fifth release of the long running quartet’s eighteen year career but this is no indication of creative idleness, indeed it’s just the reverse. The main reason that Partisans are comparatively scarcely documented on disc is that the individual members are perpetually busy with other projects. Guitarist Phil Robson and multi reeds player Julian Siegel both lead their own groups and are also in constant demand for sideman appearances. Drummer Gene Calderazzo has worked on both of his colleagues’ solo projects and has also formed highly creative alliances with pianists Zoe Rahman and Jonathan Gee. Bassist Thaddeus Kelly’s activities away from Partisans have been less well documented but have included collaborations with Orquestra Mahatma, Billy Jenkins, Ashley Slater and Steve Arguelles as well as leadership of his own groups.

Despite the lengthy hiatuses between recordings and tours Partisans have retained a strong group identity, “we’re like a band of brothers” opines Calderazzo, and the fact that they frequently spend time apart working on other projects ensures that when they do come together the music is tight and focussed.Even so they’re probably the jazz group that I’ve seen live on the most number of occasions, going right back to the late 1990s, and every time they’ve delivered with their blend of energy, inventiveness, tightness and precision. Partisans shows are exciting affairs and their collaboration with American guitarist Wayne Krantz at the 2003 Cheltenham Jazz Festival remains a personal highlight.

Earlier in 2014 I saw them play a gig at the Queens Head pub in Monmouth, a warm up for a North American tour which saw them winning a raft of new fans “across the pond” on a series of performances that included the Rochester, NY Jazz Festival. “Warm up” or not the Monmouth show was brilliant and was described by many witnesses as the “most exciting night at the Queens for years”. It even included a number of items from “Sourpuss”, the band’s breakthrough album, and still my favourite Partisans record. It’s held in equal affection by the band themselves and for my money did a lot to open the floodgates for Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Led Bib etc. Partisans received precious little credit for their pioneering work at the time but lately their influence on the contemporary jazz landscape seems to have become more widely acknowledged.

That Monmouth gig also offered lucky listeners like me to get a sneak preview of the material presented on “Swamp”. Following “Partisans” (1997), “Sourpuss” (2002), “Max” (2005) and “By Proxy” (2009) the new album exhibits plenty of the group’s now trademark blend of jazz sophistication and rock power on a programme of eight new tunes with the compositional credits split equally between co-leaders Robson and Siegel. It’s recognisably a Partisans record and in that respect there are few real surprises but when a band sounds as good as this that hardly seems to matter. Chances are that if you’ve enjoyed the band’s previous output then you’re going to love this.

“Swamp” sees the band moving to moving to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label after a lengthy tenure with Babel but sees them retaining the services of engineer Philip Bagenal and the cover art even recalls the mighty “Sourpuss”.

Musically the album gets off to a great start with Siegel’s “Lift The Sneck” which draws its inspiration from the Ghanaian musicians with whom Siegel worked in tuba player Oren Marshall’s band. The sunny Ghanaian vibes are teamed with a nagging melodic hook, a more characteristic Siegel device, to create a tightly woven patchwork of melody and rhythm with Siegel leading off the solos on sinuous but gutsy tenor sax. Meanwhile Calderazzo and Kelly demonstrate their ability to not only lay down a memorable groove but also to negotiate complex rhythmical changes mid tune. The pair have the ability to make to not only make the complex and sophisticated look ridiculously easy but also to make it seem natural, accessible and above all exciting, something they’ve done throughout the band’s career with their turn on a dime skill and precision. “Lift The Sneck” climaxes with a gloriously full on solo from Robson which makes full use of his array of effects pedals as the guitarist reminds us that he’s been influenced as much by Black Sabbath and AC/DC as by Jim Hall.

Also by Siegel the simmering “Low Glow” was inspired by the partnership of Robson and singer Christine Tobin with the composer imagining the central melody being sung by Tobin. Instead it proves the jumping off point for a probing, gently garrulous tenor solo from the composer followed by Robson on guitar, his sound less obviously rock influenced but still making judicious use of an array of effects. The contrast between Robson’s electric guitar and the essentially acoustic sound of Siegel’s reeds is a fundamental part of the group’s appeal, a kind of “opposites attract”, but equally beguiling is the way their instruments combine and intertwine on the group’s tricky but arresting heads, themes and motifs.

Robson’s “Thin Man” (the title a Dylan reference perhaps?) suggests a growing compositional maturity with its dark textures and chamber jazz like intro but the group subsequently build up a fair head of steam, particularly on the saxophone and guitar solos. Kelly and Calderazzo exhibit typical flexibility on a piece that Robson acknowledges to have been influenced by his writing for his “Invisible Code” quintet featuring American saxophonist Mark Turner.

Also by Robson the title track opens with the ominous sounds of FX laden guitar, muscular electric bass, the charged shimmer of Calerazzo’s cymbals and the writhings of Siegel’s tenor, - it’s the collective sound of a snake waiting to strike. The bite finally comes as Kelly and Calderazzo nail down a fluid groove and Robson delivers a venomous, distortion soaked solo of such filthiness that even his contribution to “Lift The Sneck” feels relatively tame by comparison.

Something of the same air of menace pervades Siegel’s “Veto”, which adopts a more measured approach but still maintains an air of edginess through the tenor and guitar solos. Calderazzo offers a perpetually evolving drum commentary that finds its apotheosis in an extended drum break. Since moving to the UK from his native New York almost twenty years ago he’s evolved into one of Britain’s most consistently creative drummers.

Siegel states that his composition “Overview” was inspired by the film “The Overview Effect” and there’s certainly something strangely familiar about the joyous theme which floats airily above a gloriously funky bass groove before shading off into more challenging rhythmical terrain for the solos, Siegel this time featuring on soprano. At a little under nine minutes this is a track that encompasses several changes of direction but seems to shift shape almost imperceptibly, a fact that only serves to underline the skill of the players. 

Robson’s “Mickey” sees the guitarist intertwining enchantingly with Siegel’s tenor on the intro before delivering a delightfully nimble bebop influenced solo full of slippery lines and chords. Siegel’s good natured tenor solo vies with him for excellence as Calderazzo provides excellent drum commentary, simultaneously driving on and responding to the soloists.

Robson’s “Icicle Architects” begins in unexpectedly pensive fashion with his glacial guitar lines contrasting well with Siegel’s soaring clarinet in a dialogue punctuated by Calderazzo’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Eventually the drummer strikes up a groove and we’re into more familiar Partisans territory with an agile Robson solo dancing its way around the grooves of the rhythm section and Siegel’s insistent sax vamp.

It’s not always easy to find the words to describe just how good this group is. They’ve been one of my favourite bands for such a long time and their music never fails to delight. Like its predecessors “Swamp” is instantly accessible but will doubtless continue reveal fresh insights with every subsequent listening. There’s an indefinable “something” about Partisans, a group sound, identity and solidarity that you only get with a regular working band. That this supremely accomplished album was recorded over the course of just two days is testament to the depth of the group’s rapport.

But that “something” is also a quality that is able to communicate itself to people outside the usual jazz demographic. Several of my friends, including some who don’t particularly like jazz, have seen and enjoyed the Partisans and totally “got” what the band are doing. Part of that is the obvious rock influence and the flamboyance of Calderazzo, but it’s also the sense that this is a real band with a strong group ethos that they can buy into.

“Swamp” is as good as anything Partisans have recorded and they deserve the recognition and support of British music fans on their ongoing UK tour, dates listed below;   


10 October         BRIGHTON, The Verdict

11 October         MARSDEN JAZZ FESTIVAL

23 October         BIRMINGHAM, Jazz Lines at Hare and Hounds

31 October         STOKE BY NAYLAND, Fleece Jazz

5 November       LEICESTER Jazz, The Y Theatre

14 November       CHELTENHAM Jazz, The Victory Club

20 November       LEEDS, Seven Jazz at Chapel Allerton

21 November       LONDON Jazz Festival, The Vortex

Swamp

Partisans

Friday, October 03, 2014

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Swamp

The release of a new album by Partisans is always a major event and "Swamp" is as good as everything else they've recorded.

Partisans

“Swamp”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR 4657)

The release of a new album by Partisans is always a major event. “Swamp” may be only the fifth release of the long running quartet’s eighteen year career but this is no indication of creative idleness, indeed it’s just the reverse. The main reason that Partisans are comparatively scarcely documented on disc is that the individual members are perpetually busy with other projects. Guitarist Phil Robson and multi reeds player Julian Siegel both lead their own groups and are also in constant demand for sideman appearances. Drummer Gene Calderazzo has worked on both of his colleagues’ solo projects and has also formed highly creative alliances with pianists Zoe Rahman and Jonathan Gee. Bassist Thaddeus Kelly’s activities away from Partisans have been less well documented but have included collaborations with Orquestra Mahatma, Billy Jenkins, Ashley Slater and Steve Arguelles as well as leadership of his own groups.

Despite the lengthy hiatuses between recordings and tours Partisans have retained a strong group identity, “we’re like a band of brothers” opines Calderazzo, and the fact that they frequently spend time apart working on other projects ensures that when they do come together the music is tight and focussed.Even so they’re probably the jazz group that I’ve seen live on the most number of occasions, going right back to the late 1990s, and every time they’ve delivered with their blend of energy, inventiveness, tightness and precision. Partisans shows are exciting affairs and their collaboration with American guitarist Wayne Krantz at the 2003 Cheltenham Jazz Festival remains a personal highlight.

Earlier in 2014 I saw them play a gig at the Queens Head pub in Monmouth, a warm up for a North American tour which saw them winning a raft of new fans “across the pond” on a series of performances that included the Rochester, NY Jazz Festival. “Warm up” or not the Monmouth show was brilliant and was described by many witnesses as the “most exciting night at the Queens for years”. It even included a number of items from “Sourpuss”, the band’s breakthrough album, and still my favourite Partisans record. It’s held in equal affection by the band themselves and for my money did a lot to open the floodgates for Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Led Bib etc. Partisans received precious little credit for their pioneering work at the time but lately their influence on the contemporary jazz landscape seems to have become more widely acknowledged.

That Monmouth gig also offered lucky listeners like me to get a sneak preview of the material presented on “Swamp”. Following “Partisans” (1997), “Sourpuss” (2002), “Max” (2005) and “By Proxy” (2009) the new album exhibits plenty of the group’s now trademark blend of jazz sophistication and rock power on a programme of eight new tunes with the compositional credits split equally between co-leaders Robson and Siegel. It’s recognisably a Partisans record and in that respect there are few real surprises but when a band sounds as good as this that hardly seems to matter. Chances are that if you’ve enjoyed the band’s previous output then you’re going to love this.

“Swamp” sees the band moving to moving to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label after a lengthy tenure with Babel but sees them retaining the services of engineer Philip Bagenal and the cover art even recalls the mighty “Sourpuss”.

Musically the album gets off to a great start with Siegel’s “Lift The Sneck” which draws its inspiration from the Ghanaian musicians with whom Siegel worked in tuba player Oren Marshall’s band. The sunny Ghanaian vibes are teamed with a nagging melodic hook, a more characteristic Siegel device, to create a tightly woven patchwork of melody and rhythm with Siegel leading off the solos on sinuous but gutsy tenor sax. Meanwhile Calderazzo and Kelly demonstrate their ability to not only lay down a memorable groove but also to negotiate complex rhythmical changes mid tune. The pair have the ability to make to not only make the complex and sophisticated look ridiculously easy but also to make it seem natural, accessible and above all exciting, something they’ve done throughout the band’s career with their turn on a dime skill and precision. “Lift The Sneck” climaxes with a gloriously full on solo from Robson which makes full use of his array of effects pedals as the guitarist reminds us that he’s been influenced as much by Black Sabbath and AC/DC as by Jim Hall.

Also by Siegel the simmering “Low Glow” was inspired by the partnership of Robson and singer Christine Tobin with the composer imagining the central melody being sung by Tobin. Instead it proves the jumping off point for a probing, gently garrulous tenor solo from the composer followed by Robson on guitar, his sound less obviously rock influenced but still making judicious use of an array of effects. The contrast between Robson’s electric guitar and the essentially acoustic sound of Siegel’s reeds is a fundamental part of the group’s appeal, a kind of “opposites attract”, but equally beguiling is the way their instruments combine and intertwine on the group’s tricky but arresting heads, themes and motifs.

Robson’s “Thin Man” (the title a Dylan reference perhaps?) suggests a growing compositional maturity with its dark textures and chamber jazz like intro but the group subsequently build up a fair head of steam, particularly on the saxophone and guitar solos. Kelly and Calderazzo exhibit typical flexibility on a piece that Robson acknowledges to have been influenced by his writing for his “Invisible Code” quintet featuring American saxophonist Mark Turner.

Also by Robson the title track opens with the ominous sounds of FX laden guitar, muscular electric bass, the charged shimmer of Calerazzo’s cymbals and the writhings of Siegel’s tenor, - it’s the collective sound of a snake waiting to strike. The bite finally comes as Kelly and Calderazzo nail down a fluid groove and Robson delivers a venomous, distortion soaked solo of such filthiness that even his contribution to “Lift The Sneck” feels relatively tame by comparison.

Something of the same air of menace pervades Siegel’s “Veto”, which adopts a more measured approach but still maintains an air of edginess through the tenor and guitar solos. Calderazzo offers a perpetually evolving drum commentary that finds its apotheosis in an extended drum break. Since moving to the UK from his native New York almost twenty years ago he’s evolved into one of Britain’s most consistently creative drummers.

Siegel states that his composition “Overview” was inspired by the film “The Overview Effect” and there’s certainly something strangely familiar about the joyous theme which floats airily above a gloriously funky bass groove before shading off into more challenging rhythmical terrain for the solos, Siegel this time featuring on soprano. At a little under nine minutes this is a track that encompasses several changes of direction but seems to shift shape almost imperceptibly, a fact that only serves to underline the skill of the players. 

Robson’s “Mickey” sees the guitarist intertwining enchantingly with Siegel’s tenor on the intro before delivering a delightfully nimble bebop influenced solo full of slippery lines and chords. Siegel’s good natured tenor solo vies with him for excellence as Calderazzo provides excellent drum commentary, simultaneously driving on and responding to the soloists.

Robson’s “Icicle Architects” begins in unexpectedly pensive fashion with his glacial guitar lines contrasting well with Siegel’s soaring clarinet in a dialogue punctuated by Calderazzo’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Eventually the drummer strikes up a groove and we’re into more familiar Partisans territory with an agile Robson solo dancing its way around the grooves of the rhythm section and Siegel’s insistent sax vamp.

It’s not always easy to find the words to describe just how good this group is. They’ve been one of my favourite bands for such a long time and their music never fails to delight. Like its predecessors “Swamp” is instantly accessible but will doubtless continue reveal fresh insights with every subsequent listening. There’s an indefinable “something” about Partisans, a group sound, identity and solidarity that you only get with a regular working band. That this supremely accomplished album was recorded over the course of just two days is testament to the depth of the group’s rapport.

But that “something” is also a quality that is able to communicate itself to people outside the usual jazz demographic. Several of my friends, including some who don’t particularly like jazz, have seen and enjoyed the Partisans and totally “got” what the band are doing. Part of that is the obvious rock influence and the flamboyance of Calderazzo, but it’s also the sense that this is a real band with a strong group ethos that they can buy into.

“Swamp” is as good as anything Partisans have recorded and they deserve the recognition and support of British music fans on their ongoing UK tour, dates listed below;   


10 October         BRIGHTON, The Verdict

11 October         MARSDEN JAZZ FESTIVAL

23 October         BIRMINGHAM, Jazz Lines at Hare and Hounds

31 October         STOKE BY NAYLAND, Fleece Jazz

5 November       LEICESTER Jazz, The Y Theatre

14 November       CHELTENHAM Jazz, The Victory Club

20 November       LEEDS, Seven Jazz at Chapel Allerton

21 November       LONDON Jazz Festival, The Vortex


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