by Ian Mann
August 05, 2022
A fitting celebration of Partikel’s first decade of music making. The group’s distinctive approach to the art of the saxophone trio has delivered some excellent music.
(Berthold Records – BR321099)
Duncan Eagles – saxophones, Max Luthert – double bass, Eric Ford – drums
“Anniversary Song” is the fifth album from the trio known as Partikel and represents a celebration of their ten years together as a group.
They’ve actually been together since 2009 and the music on this album was originally written in 2019 but Covid restrictions then delayed its recording until August 2021.
The Jazzmann has been a champion of the band almost from its beginning, quickly spotting their potential and giving a highly favourable review to their eponymous début album back in 2010.
The album was well received by fans and critics alike and a definite ‘buzz’ quickly developed around Partikel.
The first of my numerous live sightings of the trio came at the 2011 Brecon Jazz Festival when the band played a dynamic lunchtime set at what was clearly a very important gig for them at the time. This show, plus numerous other Partikel live performances and the majority of their recordings are also reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.
The début had featured Eagles’ writing exclusively but their second album “Cohesion” (2012) also featured the writing of bassist Max Luthert and consolidated the trio’s reputation as one of the most exciting new bands around.
Never a band to rest on its laurels Partikel were augmented by a string quartet led by violinist Benet McLean on 2015’s excellent “String Theory”. The band also toured with this project, sometimes performing with the full string quartet, sometimes with McLean alone. I was fortunate enough to see both versions of the “String Theory” line up and enjoyed them both, with the quartet and septet versions representing substantially different musical experiences.
“Counteraction” (2017) saw the trio continuing their experiments, this time in the company of McLean, guitarist Ant Law, flautist / baritone saxophonist Anna Cooper and sound designer Sisu Lu. The album placed a greater emphasis on electronics and saw the trio continuing to develop their sound.
Partikel’s recordings and live performances have been regularly documented on the Jazzmann and they remain something of a personal favourite, a band that has continued to experiment and develop throughout the course of its existence.
That said “Anniversary Song” represents something of a return to basics. It features the core trio only, with no additional musicians and no electronics. Eagles’ liner notes detail the disappointment he felt when the rehearsals and performances leading up to the original Covid cancelled recording date proved to be in vain. He also admits to worrying that his technique might have become rusty during lockdown and that the complexity of the music “would get the better of us”, adding “whilst doing my best to keep focussed throughout the pandemic the reality of two years of next to no performing does take its toll on the physical side of playing an instrument to say the least”.
Happily these concerns were quickly forgotten once the band finally entered the studios, as Eagles explains;
“The studio was fantastic and once we started playing all of this faded away and I believe that what we have on this album is our strongest statement to date. Behind the notes you can hear the intensity that comes from being denied what was once a daily form of expression, coupled with the joy of being able to do something again that makes you feel truly at home”.
In an interview with Tony Benjamin for the August 2022 edition of Jazzwise magazine he expanded further;
“We realised that we have been working together as a band for ten years and thought it would be nice to mark this occasion. I went back and listened again to the first album that we did. I wanted to capture what we had at the start but expanded by the years of experience working together. This album is all about how we operate as a unit and how we explore and improvise together. I have always viewed Partikel as a trio. When conceiving the larger line ups the idea has always been ‘what would it be like to add this to what we are doing?’. When we play together there is a familiarity that comes from years of playing together, many gigs, many hours of rehearsing and talking about music. We recognise and can identify each other’s musical language and it feels like we are starting to get a language of our own as a unit rather than three people playing tunes together. Once we got into this session we were playing just like we have always done. I think there is a sense of relief in the music that what we have as a unit is strong enough to weather the eighteen months of not playing together. This recording really showcases what we are about as a trio and also where we are musically and conceptually. It’s an exciting road we are on and one I’m looking forward to continuing to travel”.
The new album features ten tracks, all of them relatively brief and all composed by Eagles and arranged by the trio.
Things get under way with “Catford Muse”, introduced by the sound of Luthert’s double bass. There’s a suitably slinky, feline quality about the music with Eagles featuring on his favoured tenor saxophone and with the colourful and inventive drumming of the busy Ford prominent in the mix. There’s a sense that this is very much a trio of equals, even when Eagles stretches out to solo with a Rollins-esque combination of power and fluency, matched every step of the way by Ford and Luthert.
Luthert’s bass also ushers in “Silhouettes”, the album’s lengthiest track and a piece that features Eagles on soprano saxophone. Less frenetic than the opener it unfolds gradually over the course of its near eight minute duration, passing through a series of distinct phases and embracing a strong narrative arc. The first section finds Eagles brooding gently above Luthert’s fluid bass lines and Ford’s ever imaginative drums and percussion, the music gradually building in terms of intensity. Luthert’s bass assumes the lead mid tune, his tone hugely resonant and his fingering highly dexterous. Eagles subsequently takes over once more, gently steering the track towards its resolution. The sound of the soprano helps to give the piece something of a Middle Eastern feel.
Eagles returns to tenor for “Cryptography”, a complex piece distinguished by its Morse Code inspired rhythms. The melody immediately seemed familiar, primarily because this is a new version of a tune that appeared on Partikel’s first album and which establishes a neat link between the band’s past and this anniversary recording. Writing in 2010 I described this tune as being “a piece that sees Partikel updating Sonny Rollins for a contemporary British audience”. It’s a description that still holds true for the 2021 version.
“The Golden Bridge” is more meditative, but retains a certain edge as Luthert’s bass and Ford’s drums stalk Eagles’ tenor. There’s an agreeably noirish quality about the piece that sometimes reminds me of the music of Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear.
“The Butterfly Effect” is ushered in by suitably fluttering tenor and retains that slightly edgy quality as it unfolds, subtly metamorphosing as it does so. The mood varies from the gentle and lyrical to the urgent and fractious. It’s a piece that amply demonstrates the rapport that the trio have generated over the course of their ten years plus together.
The cleverly titled “Suburbiton” is surprisingly lyrical and is another piece that demonstrates Eagles’ gift for melody. Partikel remain an innately tuneful unit, no matter how far their explorations may take them. It’s a quality that was there on their first album and which has helped them garner a substantial following for their highly distinctive music. No other saxophone trio sounds quite like them.
“Drum Intro” is a short (one and a half minutes) solo drum episode featuring Ford’s colourful and inherently melodic playing that serves as a way into the Eagles composition “Riad”. Again this draws inspiration from Sonny Rollins, Eagles’ primary influence with regard to Partikel’s music. The piece embraces a number of twists and turns, with numerous variations in terms of moods and dynamics. The intensity of which Eagles has spoken can clearly be heard in the trio’s more animated exchanges.
The composition “Citizen” was written for a quintet featuring Luthert, keyboard player Matt Robinson, guitarist David Preston and drummer Dave Hamblett. This line up released an album of the same name in 2019, credited to Eagles alone.
“Citizen has quite a dense and complex structure both rhythmically and harmonically but with a melody that moves from being a free and hopeful message to something that is darker and more part of the structure.” Eagles has explained. “When performing and improvising on this song I’m looking forward to creating something that is hopeful and optimistic within a challenging and dense framework”.
It’s interesting to hear the piece performed by the smaller three piece unit. As its composer has intimated the piece again moves through a number of distinct phases, once more embracing a broad range of moods and dynamics with the pared down line up generating an impressive sense of power when required.
The album concludes with the lyrical ballad “Rose Bush”, a tune written in the style of a jazz standard and intended as a homage to the trio’s origins jamming on standards at venues such as the Grey Horse in Kingston and the Hideaway in Streatham. With Ford deploying brushes throughout it’s a beautiful performance and a delightful way to end this excellent album.
“Anniversary Song” is a fitting celebration of Partikel’s first decade of music making and The Jazzmann is very pleased to have been on board for the duration. The group’s distinctive approach to the art of the saxophone trio has delivered some excellent music, whether from the core trio or from the numerous augmented line ups.
But it’s the playing of the core trio that is at the heart of Partikel’s music with all three musicians delivering an impressive blend of power and lyricism and combining to produce a group sound that is both exploratory and innately melodic. Individually each musician has a highly distinctive musical voice, but it’s probably fair to say that the whole is even more impressive than the individual components.
Like most jazz musicians Eagles, Luthert and Ford are also involved with numerous other projects and each has made excellent music elsewhere. But when they do come back together to work as Partikel the results are very special. The story continues.
Tuesday 9 August 2022
Album launch at PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Soho, London
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