London band Partisans has been making the hair stand up on the back of audiences' necks with its supercharged collision of jazz and rock since 1996. By Proxy
is the band's fourth album following the acclaimed Max
(Babel, 2005), which was the most effective recreation of Partisans' ferocious live sound in the recording studio up to that date.
Max was a monster. By Proxy is even better. Like its predecessor, it conveys much of the impact of the group live, but is also a cleverly conceived studio set, in which the group's multi-layered, rhythmically sophisticated, twisting and turning arrangements reveal new points of interest each time they are heard. The gumbo of genres touched on is the same as beforeupdated electric Miles Davis, bop, hard bop, rock and funk (of the intelligently bootalicious Parliament/Funkadelic type), even an occasional taste of heavy metalbut the blend is deeper, displaying those degrees of collective energy and focus which only a stable, working band can achieve after years of playing together.
Partisans is co-led by reed player Julian Siegel and guitarist Phil Robson, each of whom has recently released an outstanding solo album. Siegel's double CD Live At The Vortex (Basho, 2009), made with Americans Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums, is one of the year's great saxophone albums. Robson's Six Strings And The Beat (Babel, 2008), made with a string quartet, is an elegant electric guitar and chamber music outing, all the more delightful for having apparently come out of nowhere. Good things are said to come in threes, and By Proxy completes the sequence.
Siegel and Robson are Partisans' chief composersbetween them they wrote all the tunes on By Proxy with the exception of Wayne Krantz's "Partisans #1" and Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" (like it's never been heard before)but the high energy contributions of bassist Thaddeus Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo, a long-time American resident in London, are key to the band's sound. Kelly, in addition, is responsible for the daring, electronica-seeped mix-down of "Prelude To A Kiss," featuring Siegel's delicately poised saxophone over urgent, rapid-fire bass, drums and effects-laden guitar.
True to form, there aren't many ballads on By Proxy, and it's not until track six, "Munch," a feature for tenor saxophone and acoustic guitar, that there's a sustained softening of the ambiance. But the arrangements of the other tunes, with their unexpected but always on the money diversions, tributaries, meter morphs and secondary themes, provide plenty of internal contrasts and varied dynamics. "Partisans #1" and "Advance" are both jewels of serpentine, post-Miles Davis, electric jazz/rock; the first features Siegel on bass clarinet, the second soprano saxophone over a tricksy electric guitar and bass ostinato. The heavy metal tinged "By Proxy" takes a more relentless path.
Partisans' long expected masterpiece, By Proxy is one of the most exciting albums to be released on either side of the Atlantic in 2009.