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Partisans: Max

Chris May By

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Partisans: Max Longer established than their Babel label mates and fellow London radicals Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear—and several light years closer to the straight-ahead tradition than either—in energy and attitude Phil Robson's and Julian Siegel's Partisans are very much on the same side of the barricades. Here, in their first album since '00's Sourpuss, they cook up another trademark shot of gritty bop and hard bop, early electric Miles, rock riffs and jam band grooves, a bona fide ain't broke and don't need fixing blast, short on introspection and big on in-the-moment excitement and invention.

Max is dedicated to Max Roach, and the opening track, which segues from Parker's "Klact-oveeseds-tene" into Siegel's variation "Max," borrows its rhythm from the drummer and rides it hard and at speed for just under seven minutes, establishing a fierce and full-on mood which runs through the album with just a few contrasting moments of delicacy and reflection. Instrumental textures at times inevitably bring Miles' work with Bennie Maupin and John McLaughlin to mind, but the Miles album of which Max is most strongly reminiscent is the guitarless and bass clarinetless Live At The Fillmore East (March 7 1970)—it has that same intensely exciting heightened level of fire and passion.

"Klact-oveeseds-tene" aside, all the tunes here are written, separately, by Robson and Siegel (except for Wayne Krantz's "Partisans #2" and David Bowie's "John, I'm Only Dancing"), and they show the two men's talent for richly lyrical composition to be undimmed. "Closing Light," which features its composer Robson on acoustic guitar behind Siegel's almost breathy tenor, is the only track of sustained delicacy on the album, but they're all blessed with strong melodies, even the fastest and fiercest.

Guests Jim Watson, Chris Batchelor, and Thebe Lipere bring plenty of flavour to the party, with Watson's chicken shack B3 a particular pleasure on Robson's "The Eskaton," and Batchelor helping attach an electrified fifty-years-on Diz 'n' Bird vibe to "Max," and Kelly and Calderazzo are simultaneously and characteristically rock solid and supercharged. But nine years down the line, it's the Robson/Siegel take-no-prisoners axis which continues to define Partisans.

Terrific, invigorating music.


Track Listing: Max; Z Car; Partisans #2; The Eskaton; The Lacemakers; Last Chance; Some Of Those; John, I'm Only Dancing; Quarterlight; Wise Child.

Personnel: Phil Robson, guitars; Julian Siegel, tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, cuica; Thaddeus Kelly, bass; Gene Calderazzo, drums. Chris Batchelor, trumpet on "Max," "John, I'm Only Dancing" and "Quarterlight." Thebe Lipere, percussion on "The Lacemakers," "Last Chance" and "John, I'm Only Dancing." Jim Watson, Hammond B3 on "The Eskaton," "Some Of Those" and "John, I'm Only Dancing."

Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Babel Label | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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