Partisans Peddle History Of Jazz (R)evolution At Brighton's Verdict

Partisans LWorms 2

The night outside may be wet and windswept, but here in the Verdict's cosy basement a crowd of appreciative connoisseurs are all attentiveness as Partisans take to the stage. The band have two live dates at the Vortex coming up, to be captured for an upcoming release, and their music stands (and drummer Gene Calderazzo's floor tom) are laden with a sheaf of new music, some of it barely played before – as guitarist Phil Robson says, tonight's audience are "not quite guinea pigs" for the new jams.

They pitch straight in, Robson and reedsman Julian Siegel blowing slices of syncopated unison over Calderazzo's bustling backbeat groove – but it's quickly apparent that this is anything but your standard jazz-funk, as the beat disappears into spacious free-form breakdowns, then bursts back into life under Robson's furious overdriven solo. 'That's Not His Bag' (titled for an airport luggage incident, apparently) develops around Thad Kelly's slinky, loping ostinato, like something from Extrapolation-era McLaughlin, onto which Robson, Siegal and Calderazzo hang all kinds of explosive licks and trades – 'Nit de Nit' from the second album features some multi-textured free improv that shows how thoroughly attuned all the bandmembers are to each other's personal voices – Bowie's 'John I'm Only Dancing" is pulled apart and re-assembled ("Years before Donny McCaslin", says Robson, mock-ruefully) in an organised chaos of skilfully interlocked sounds and silences – 'Egg' is a tribute to Egberto Gismonti over a pulsing pedal groove and 'Pork Scratchings' has a contemporary-sounding lazy hip-hop inflected beat overlaid with all manner of cacophanous effects.

Partisans LWorms

Elsewhere there are high-energy, densely harmonic swing sections for the soloists to stretch out over, Mahavishnu-style guitar freakouts, quirky melodic exchanges and the occasional missed ending on the new stuff that only accentuates how effortlessly tight and disciplined the band are. Robson and Siegel are well-matched, both of them combining a sure rhythmic accuracy and a clean and precise articulation with boundless melodic and harmonic imaginations – Kelly works within the limits of an unusual left-hand technique to produce an utterly solid foundation devoid of clichéd licks – and Calderazzo is a creative firework display, throwing forth showers of bright-coloured ideas that burst in the air. For all the intensity of the music this is a relaxed affair, and the band demonstrate a level of mutual understanding and good humour that testify to a 22-year back history of playing together.

The music is a patchwork of influences – the towering jazz-rock of the 1970s, the language of the post-bop revolution and its free-improv twin, the quizzical eccentricity of Anglo art-rockers like Soft Machine and Henry Cow, the uncompromising angularity of M-base, and much else harder to classify. This is a band that will never be content to do the obvious; as we see many of the tropes of 1970s groove jazz currently being embraced by a younger generation of musicians, Partisans provide a salutary reminder of how diverse the evolution of the music has been over the last 20 years; time has only sharpened their creativity and in no way dimmed their relevance.

Eddie Myer
Photos by Lisa Wormsley 

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