Partisans – Swamp
(Whirlwind WR4657. CD review by Jon Turney)
Here’s a CD so good it induced reviewer’s procrastination: putting off writing because I wanted to go on listening. Partisans have been one of the jewels of the British jazz scene now for almost two decades, but it’s been five years since their last recording. Swamp, marking a move from Babel records to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind label, reaffirms their standing as one of the most rewarding bands anywhere.
Rewarding, that is, if you seek engaging writing, exuberant improvisation, and music that pursues Miles Davis’ latter-day project of combining jazz finesse with rock’s electric thrill. Think of the mellower beginning of that phase of Davis’ career – there are indeed a couple of nods here to In A Silent Way – not the all-out funk that followed, and you’re not far off.
Mellow is the feel this time for about half the tunes. The set is perhaps a little more relaxed overall than earlier Partisans’ efforts, though with no loss of intensity. Co-leader Phil Robson’s sound on guitar varies continually, from a heavily overdriven solo that lights up the close of the high-life tinged opener Flip the Sneck to plenty of clean, clear lines in more expected “jazz guitar” mode. Julian Siegel offers abundant tenor sax, with side helpings of soprano, bass clarinet and, on the closing Icicle Architects, a cooling dose of clarinet.
This music has great variety. Each of the eight tracks packs in contrasting episodes and subsidiary themes. There is an ease and suppleness about the band’s realisation of often-complex music that testifies to their long acquaintance. Robson and Siegel’s solos convey a freedom-in-virtuosity that also comes across in the discipline needed to play long, swooping unison lines at fast tempos. Both are energised by Gene Calderazzo’s constantly creative drumming. Thad Kelly’s electric bass is the band’s solid platform, sometimes confined to the simplest of figures for a whole tune.
Standout moments abound: Siegel’s first soprano statement on Overview, leading to a wild guitar solo, then to a cooler re-examination of the insistent theme; the way Swamp begins with some sinister atmospherics but ends with such infectious bounce; the way the fiendishly complex line of Mickey resolves into something much simpler that launches the soloists.
So many good things here, but one quality stands out. Play it through, then go back to the opening cut and ask yourself: when did you last hear so much joie de vivre packed into 5:15?