Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Partikel with Natalie Rozario

Partikel with Natalie Rozario,  Shrewsbury Jazz Network, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/04/2024.

Photography: Photograph by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network

by Ian Mann

April 15, 2024


There was much to enjoy about this performance, notably the multi-faceted writing, mainly from the pen of saxophonist Duncan Eagles, and some superb musicianship all round.

Partikel with Natalie Rozario,  Shrewsbury Jazz Network, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/04/2024.

Duncan Eagles – tenor saxophone, Max Luthert – double bass, Eric Ford – drums
with Natalie Rozario – cello

Tonight’s event marked a welcome return to Shrewsbury for Partikel, the chordless trio led by saxophonist and composer Duncan Eagles and featuring bassist Max Luthert and drummer Eric Ford. The prospect of seeing them performing with a guest, the versatile cellist Natalie Rozario, represented an enticing and intriguing prospect.

Partikel first formed in 2009 and seemed to emerge fully formed with the release of their eponymous debut album in 2010. The Jazzmann was quick to spot their potential and has been something of a champion of the band ever since.

“A refreshing, innately tuneful and highly distinctive take on the art of the saxophone trio”  was my appraisal at the time and it was refreshing to hear a band moving away from the usual Sonny Rollins / Joe Henderson influences to offer a very British take on the ‘saxophone trio’ format. Eagles’ writing for the band embraced elements of jazz, folk and world music, contemporary classical and even hip hop. Although frequently complex it was also melodic and accessible and this, combined with the trio’s excellent live performances, saw Partikel attracting considerable critical acclaim and also accruing a strong following.

The follow up, the aptly named “Cohesion” (2013) saw the writing divided between Eagles and Luthert and consolidated Partikel’s reputation as one of the most exciting new jazz acts 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.

The music for the album “Anniversary Song”  was written in 2019 to celebrate Partikel’s tenth anniversary but Covid restrictions then delayed its recording and release until 2021. This saw the band reverting to the format of the core saxophone trio, a wholly appropriate move given the circumstances.

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.

All three members have been involved in other projects, with both Eagles and Luthert having had solo recordings reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Cellist Natalie Rozario is also a former visitor to The Hive, having performed at the venue as a member of guitarist and composer Vitor Pereira’s Electric Chamber group at a performance in November 2022 that also featured Pereira’s jazz quintet. Review here;

The classically trained Rozario has also appeared on the Jazzmann web pages in reviews of recordings and live performances by Fringe Magnetic, the eclectic large ensemble led by trumpeter and composer Rory Simmons.

She has also featured as a member of MooV, a quintet led by the composer, pianist and electronics artist Colin Riley that also featured the singing of Fringe Magnetic vocalist Elisabeth Nygard. Rozario has also featured on recordings by the group Eyes of A Blue Dog, a trio featuring Nygard, Simmons and the Norwegian drummer and electronic musician Terje Evensen.

As a member of the Fable String Quartet (Rozario, - cello,  Kit Massey and Paloma Deike – violins, Becky Hopkin- viola) Rozario has performed and recorded with the Swedish born vocalist and songwriter Emilia Martensson.

Rozario also sings herself and one of her current projects is the Perhaps Trio which features her as both vocalist and cellist in the company of saxophonist Julian Costello and guitarist Patrick Naylor. Rozario and Naylor have also worked together as a duo and in the Gypsy Dreamers group, a quartet which also features Rozario in the dual role of cellist / vocalist.

She is also part of Table Music, a contemporary classical trio featuring herself on cello together with pianist Ruth Herbert and violinist Mandhira de Saram, the latter the leader of the Ligeti String Quartet and another musician who has regularly collaborated with jazz artists.

Rozario wasn’t a part of the original String Theory project but nevertheless her alliance with Partikel represents something of a continuation. The quartet first performed at the 2023 EFG London Jazz Festival and have played further dates since. It’s not yet certain whether the collaboration will eventually be documented on disc.

Tonight’s performance was largely sourced from the Partikel back catalogue and commenced with “Shimmer”,  taken from the “String Theory” album and introduced by Eagles’ fluttering tenor sax arpeggios and Ford’s bright, crisp cymbal work. Double bass and cello were subsequently added, with Rozario’s melodic lines intertwining with those of Eagles’ sax. A powerful Eagles tenor solo saw the group back in their traditional saxophone trio mode, with the piece climaxing with a dynamic drum feature from the busy and colourful Ford.

Luthert’s moody unaccompanied double bass intro ushered in “Homeward Bound”, followed by the addition of tenor sax and brushed drums. A newer piece described by Eagles as “a country tune” it subsequently featured darting, folk like melodies with Eagles and Rozario doubling up and with the cellist using her bow percussively during some of the more staccato sections.

Also from the “String Theory” recording “The Landing” was introduced by Luthert and Ford, with Eagles subsequently joining on tenor sax. Described by Eagles as a “condensed version” the tune featured the saxophonist soloing fluently above the powerful rhythms generated by the combination of plucked bass and cello, together with Ford’s drums.

From the same recording came “The Buffalo”, introduced here by an extended passage of unaccompanied cello. This represented the first opportunity for the audience to really appreciate the skill and beauty of Rozario’s playing. She had too often been drowned out by the other instruments and this problem with the sound balance was to continue throughout the first set, despite efforts being made to adjust it. Bass, breathy tenor sax and the sounds of mallet rumbles were subsequently added as Rozario continued to take the lead, eventually handing over to the duo of Luthert and Eagles. With the addition of Ford’s hand drumming the saxophonist’s solo brought the piece to an unexpectedly gentle close.

The new tune “Open House” began with a languid trio intro featuring the sounds of sax, double bass and brushed drums, with Rozario’s cello subsequently dovetailing with Eagles’ tenor. At this quieter volume it was easier to appreciate and enjoy her contribution. Subsequently the music took a more dramatic and dynamic turn with Eagles soloing powerfully on tenor and Ford rounding things off with a typically flamboyant drum feature.

The first half concluded with the staccato riffing of “Catford Muse”, the opening tune on the “Anniversary Song” album. Rozario’s percussive bowing and Ford’s dynamic drumming helped to fuel a buccaneering solo from Eagles, this followed by a volcanic drum feature from the irrepressible Ford.

A lengthy first half had delivered some excellent playing, but there was a general sense of disappointment among the audience members that we hadn’t been able hear more of Rozario’s contribution. I spoke to people who had been seated in different parts of the room, but wherever people had been listening from they all found the cello to be too low in the mix.

To be fair it was a problem that the band members were all well aware of and during the break efforts were made to boost the sound of cello (which was being amplified by the use of a bug mic)  in the mix. In addition to increasing the volume of the cello the other group members also made adjustments during the second set with Eagles often playing off mic and Ford generally playing less forcefully. It all made for an improved sound and a more satisfactory and enjoyable experience for the audience after the break.

Set two commenced with the Partikel trio only, playing “Silhouettes”, a piece from the “Anniversary Song” album. This was ushered in by a solo drum intro and the sounds of Ford’s mallets on skins and cymbals, sketching melodies on the drums and deploying the distinctive sound of foot operated cowbell, something of a Ford signature. Bass and saxophone were subsequently added on a rendition of the tune that sounded very different to the recorded version, where Eagles is featured playing soprano sax. Tonight, on tenor, he evoked the spirit of Sonny Rollins during his solo. He was followed by the excellent Luthert, an articulate and dexterous double bass soloist whose deeply rhythmic playing is also at the very heart of Partikel’s music.

The second trio item was the ballad “Rose Bush”, another tune sourced from the “Anniversary Song” album. Achingly lyrical,  and with something of the feel of a jazz standard about it, this featured some of the trio’s most beautiful playing, with Ford deploying brushes throughout as both Eagles and Luthert delivered delightfully melodic solos.

Rozario returned for “H.O.J.”, initially playing pizzicato as she joined Eagles and Ford on the intro, with Luthert subsequently filling the sound out further on bass. Rozario subsequently took up the bow and we could now appreciate the richness of her playing in a full band context as she took the first solo, with Ford deploying brushes. When Eagles joined in, initially playing off mic, the full subtlety of the interplay between cello and tenor could now be savoured. Rozario eventually reverted to the pizzicato technique as Eagles soloed, the piece again concluding with a Ford drum feature.

There was a return to the “String Theory” repertoire for “Midnight Mass”, ushered in by an extended solo double bass feature from Luthert that was utterly compelling throughout. Eagles’ tenor sax melody was accompanied by the sounds of double bass and the sounds of Ford’s mallets on toms and cymbals, with the drummer now very much cast in the role of colourist. Rozario again found room to combine with Eagles in a series of interweaving melody lines.

Effectively an encore “The Labyrinth and The Minotaur” saw Rozario’s plucked cello helping to establish the groove that fuelled Eagles’ tenor sax solo, the cellist later picking up the bow to supply a swirling counter melody, as Luthert’s muscular bass and Ford’s vigorously brushed drums continued the rhythmic impetus.

There was much to enjoy about this performance, notably the multi-faceted writing, mainly from the pen of Eagles, and some superb musicianship all round. However I can’t ignore the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ and the sound problems that affected the first set. Similar problems had been encountered when Rozario appeared here with Vitor Pereira, but on that occasion they had been rectified far more quickly. It pains me to have to dock half a star due to technical problems, but the unequal sound mix really did spoil my enjoyment of the first half. I know other people felt the same way too.

It’s a particular shame as all four musicians are genuinely lovely people and I enjoyed speaking with all of them after the show. Extra thanks to Eric Ford for filling in the missing details with regard to the set list.

Of course on any recording that the quartet might eventually make the sound will be perfectly balanced. Let’s hope that can happen at some point in the future. I’ve certainly enjoyed accessing the “String Theory” and “Anniversary Song” material again during the course of writing of this review – plus the live performances last Saturday of course.




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