Partisans are open in their admiration for jazz-rock/fusion. Yet the UK group's third album, Max, moves far beyond revivalism. It's dedicated to Max Roach, and the opening self-penned title track is embedded within Charlie Parker's "Klact-oveeseds-tene," drawing immediate attention to influences well beyond the 1970s. In fact, the most impressive feature of the band is its ability to underlay the excitement and tonal innovations of jazz-rock with a rhythmic sensibility that owes more to bebop than Cream.
Max is not just a document of a live band but a carefully constructed album with thought given to textural variety, change of pace, and compositional interest; consequently, it holds your attention. The band's dense, yet airborne sound owes much to the flexibility of drummer Gene Calderazzo and bassist Thaddeus Kelly. Guitarist Phil Robson switches between effects-laden acid rock and pure, swinging Montgomery/Hall-era jazz. Reedsman Julian Siegel openly declares his debt to Wayne Shorter in the dedication of "Wise Child," while paying musical homage across the disc with abstract yet emotional playing.
The jazz-rock feel reaches its height midway through "Last Chance." A brooding eastern-sounding prologue gives way to a scorching, riff-driven heart with Robson employing Hendrix-like distortion and Siegel wailing on bass clarinet. Yet even here things are different. Two thirds of the way through the piece dissolves in a glorious pastoral coda, Siegel's achingly lovely melody drifting over luminous guitar arpeggios. The dark forests of Miles Davis' '70s work are visited just oncethe humid, stop/start sounds of Bitches Brew are evoked on a track where a familiar tune eventually emerges in ghostly outline: Bowie's "John, I'm Only Dancing."
The latter track is one of three where Hammond B3 organist Jim Watson adds further colour, drawing comparisons with the swirling sounds of Larry Young. Trumpeter Chris Batchelor appears on three tracks to widen the tonal palette still further.
"Z Car" revisits a tune from an earlier album; the rhythm section glides between ever-changing metres, avoiding the awkward changes of gear that can sometimes afflict fusion. Here is no plodding rock beat but crispness and precision, keeping the tune in constant motion. The title of "The Lacemakers" would appear to be a reference to the industrial origins of Siegel's home town of Nottingham. The skittering percussion evokes the sound of an 18th Century workshop alive with textile frames, inspiring Siegel to an impassioned tenor solo over Robson's rich chording.
This is an outstanding recording by a group of young, yet experienced musicians who have played with a wide range of major jazz names. Phil Robson, for example, has recently been heard in the company of the likes of Billy Hart, James Genus, Marc Copland, Tom Rainey, and Drew Gress, both in Britain and the States. Max is bound to engage the curious listener; it should also open doors to a wider series of superb recordings by the members of Partisans which deserve a hearing beyond the UK.
Max (i) Klact-oveeseds-tene, (ii) Max; Z Car; Partisans #2; The Eskaton; The Lacemakers;
Last Chance; Some Of Those!; John, I'm Only Dancing; Quarterlight; Wise Child.
Phil Robson: guitars; Julian Siegel: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, cuica;
Thaddeus Kelly: bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums. Special guests Thebe Lipere: percussion;
Jim Watson: Hammond B3 organ; Chris Batchelor: trumpet.
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