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Partikel: String Theory

Roger Farbey By

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A frenetic opening to the third album by Partikel augurs well for the rest of this hour-long recording and there's almost a reminiscence of Frank Zappa's Hot Rats in its intensity. Partikel here is augmented on this session by a string quartet. A jazz trio with strings? Yes, but not just any strings, these are strings on steroids. The quartet isn't a backing group but rather it plays an active role in providing vibrant harmonic and melodic counterpoint to the sax-led trio. Also, crucially, these classically-trained musicians are not averse to taking impressive improvisational skirmishes as with Benet McLean's dazzling jazz violin solo on "Clash of the Clans Part 1."

Max Luthert's resonant pizzicato bass solo introduces "Clash of the Clans Part 2" and evolves into a trio-only number where all three members of Partikel are heard at their optimum in isolation and together. "Clash of the Clans Part 3" resolves the suite in a gloriously satisfying theme augmented by the strings. "Shimmer" takes off where "Clash" leaves off with yet another irresistible melody and counter melody executed by the trio and strings and supplemented with a violin solo by McLean.

Intriguingly, McLean has composed and performs (solo) the two minute piece "Introduction to the Buffalo," a bravura display of violin played in a contemporary classical mode rather than a jazz one. In "The Buffalo" Duncan Eagles here is on soprano with the strings embellishing the serpentine melody and yet another impressive McLean violin solo.

Two other pieces are played by the trio only, the boppish "Bartering with Bob" and the sprightly "Cover" (a kind of take on the opening of "Milestones") with Eagles on soprano. These comparatively straightforward numbers effectively act as a breathing space, since by contrast the strings-enhanced arrangements are rewardingly complex but in turn, and reasonably, demand a degree of concentration on the part of the audience.

All the other numbers are composed by Eagles with the exception of Johnny Green's classic "Body and Soul," which, with tenor and strings teasing out the melody, is as far removed from Coleman Hawkins' definitive version as is humanly possible, but nonetheless remains as hauntingly elegant as ever.

Strings introduce "The River" which transmutes from poignancy to quirkiness, here again with Eagles on soprano and Eric Ford's exquisitely subtle drumming, superbly delicate here and throughout the album.

"Wray Common" begins with the rhythm section and is succeeded by tenor and strings joining together. The final track, "The Landing" sees the strings in spacey sound effect mode until a strident theme is introduced by the ensemble, the fade-out ending again decorated by science fiction strings. Facilitated by inventive contrapuntally-rich arrangements, this excellent experiment represents a perfect marriage of two seemingly disparate entities, resulting in an album of richly mellifluous sonority.

Track Listing: Clash of the Clans Part 1; Clash of the Clans Part 2 (Seeking Shadows); Clash of the Clans Part 3 (Midnight Mass); Shimmer ; Introduction to the Buffalo; The Buffalo; Bartering with Bob; The River; Wray Common; Body and Soul; Cover; The Landing.

Personnel: Duncan Eagles: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Max Luthert: double bass; Eric Ford: drums; Benet McLean: violin; Dave Le Page: violin; Carmen Flores: viola; Mathew Sharp: cello.

Title: String Theory | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings Ltd


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