Partisans: Blowing a Storm in Cyberspace
In the weeks prior to this interview, band members' work with vocalists had gained some attention: in particular, Phil Robson's appearance in the quartet that backed Barbra Streisand on her first live performance on British television. Partisans is a resolutely instrumental band, but what is their take on working with singers? Does it come as part of the territory for a jazz musician or are there particular attractions in such collaborations? "When they are really good singers I absolutely love it" Robson declares, "but as for singers per se that a different question. [Siegel interrupts with a heartfelt "Blimey, yes."] When it's a great singer I enjoy it as much as anythingI really do love it. Part of my instrument, the guitar, is being an accompanist and I really love that role...I really enjoyed the Streisand thing because it was all about creating a vibey, quiet backdrop for her to be the absolute focus. It was really interesting to do that. At first glance it may look like not a lot was being played, but it took every bit of my experience to do that gig. I had to know how to blend; I had to know how to play incredibly quietly...things that demanded a lot of experience. It was as fulfilling for me as playing a really burning solo in an instrumental piece."
Siegel has his own take on working with singers, but starts with a complement for Robson: "I'd like to put a plug in for Christine Tobin and Phil's work with her. The way that band has developed over the years has been a really great thing to see. As for the singers I've worked with: Ian Shaw's fantastic, I love playing with Lianne Carroll who has such an open spirit. Joe Lee Wilson is a highlight, a fantastic vocalist who I've recorded with. Also, Laurie Anderson is someone I've played with. Of course, there's a whole audience that only listens to singers." Robson interjects "I'm a massive fan as well: I love Betty Carter and Cassandra Wilson..." "There's no difference between a great singer and hearing Wayne Shorter play," responds Siegel. "On the way back from the gig last night I listened to Wayne Shorter play "Iris" [from Miles Davis' E.S.P (Columbia/Legacy, 1965)]. Any good instrumentalist is going to 'sing.'"
Robson emphasizes that instrumentalists can learn from vocalists: "From all the years of playing with Christine I've learned a tremendous amount. She's got such a strong character. It's been very good for me. I feel it's added an element to my playing that I wouldn't have gained without that experience."
As the interview draws to a close it's obvious that Siegel and Robson have a close working relationship. It's also clear that Partisans is very much a band, not just four musicians who occasionally get together for a few gigs, despite their relatively infrequent album releases. If Julian Siegel gets his way, Partisans could be appearing on a Space Station near you in the not too distant future: if not, then another virtual Partisans gig is highly likely. With moves into the European and American jazz circuits hopefully on the cards in the near future more and more fans should get the opportunity to see Partisans perform live as well. The success that could potentially follow will be richly deserved. This is a band that is happy to acknowledge its influences and happy to engage with emerging technologiesfour outstanding musicians whose 13-year history as a unit looks set to inform a rich and varied musical future.
Partisans, By Proxy (Babel, 2009)
Julian Siegel Trio, Live at the Vortex (Basho, 2009)
Phil Robson, Six Strings & The Beat (Babel, 2008)
Partisans, Max (Babel, 2005)
Partisans, Sourpuss (Babel, 2000)
Partisans, Partisans (EFZ, 1997)
Page 1, Group: Bill Shakespeare, courtesy of Partisans
Page 1, Performing on Second Life: Captured by Bruce Lindsay
Page 2, Julian Siegel: Leonie Purchas, Courtesy of Julian Siegel
Page 3, Phil Robson: Courtesy of Phil Robson
Page 4: Lee Paterson
Page 5: Anthony Statham