Second album from Phil Robson's 'fusion' outfit, dedicated to Max Roach...
Martin Longley 2005
It's been five years since Partisans released Sourpuss (also on the Babel Label), but this London-based quartet have remained a vital force on the live circuit. Their belated new disc is dedicated to Max Roach, who began his career drumming for Charlie Parker in the 1940s, and never ceased to be an innovator over the next five decades.
Most of its tunes are penned by reedsman Julian Siegel and guitarist Phil Robson, with the other two band members sitting out of the compositional duties. Nevertheless, the presence of bassist Thad Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo is crucial to the Partisans signature style. The core membership is augmented on several tracks by Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Thebe Lipere (percussion) and Jim Watson (Hammond B3 organ), thickening up the already larger-than-life arrangements.
The album opens with a brief snatch of Bird's "Klact-Oveeseds-Tene", which metamorphoses into Siegel's own "Max". It's an extremely tight unison rush, showering solos over a tensed funk bounce. Robson has picked up a few deranged effects-box tricks from US guitarist Wayne Krantz, with whom the foursome collaborated in 2003. Garble, mangle and distort, he goes...
The quartet have very active minds, packing much information into each number, but by the third one in, they recline and yawn for "Partisans #2", which was written by Krantz. Its dappled contemplation brings Siegel's throaty bass clarinet shadings to the fore, but the driving momentum soon returns with "The Eskaton". Despite such pounding forcefulness, Partisans are continually making detours, surprising with their detailed embellishments. "Last Chance" ends up in a similarly exultant state, following its tranquil introduction.
Their reading of David Bowie's "John, I'm Only Dancing" continually frustrates the listener by denying the expected pace. It's taken at an impressionistic rate, then shifts into a bluesy mid-section, sluiced with Hammond B3. They tease and tease, but eventually there's a gratification, expertly timed.
Partisans are one of the best bands on the UK scene, benefiting from the stability of their line-up and imbued with a cerebral passion that is perfectly balanced between cool complexity and fiery emotion.