‘String Theory’ – Partikel

Partikel

WITH A THRASHING RIFF worthy of Jimmy Page, chordless trio Partikel announce their boldest statement yet in new release String Theory – a collaboration with a dynamic string quartet led by violinist Benet McLean.

Originally formed for Monday night jam sessions on the London jazz circuit, Partikel – Duncan Eagles (saxes), Max Luthert (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) – have established themselves over the past few years with regular gigging, resulting in two previous albums (eponymous debut Partikel and 2012’s Cohesion). Now, further extending their possibilities with strings, that initial Led Zep-fuelled outpouring dramatically signals their renewed intent in a 12-track programme mostly composed and arranged by saxophonist Eagles.

Three-part Clash of the Titans reveals the augmented band’s creative process, the arrangements described as being “almost exclusively conceived on the bandstand… spontaneous musical exchanges that flowed from the heat of performance have been added to the compositions.” And that sense of discovery makes for an absorbing listen. Following the heavily rocking intro, the ‘concerto’ develops into atmospheres in which the string quartet becomes an integral part – certainly no grotesque, strap-on afterthought – with Midnight Mass (part 3) irridescing to luscious sax improvisation and sumptuous strings.

Shimmer‘s perky melodies are tossed about between sax and strings, buoyed by Eric Ford’s lively, creative percussion, until Benet McLean’s virtuosic solo violin introduces The Buffalo, a mesmerising, udu-accompanied episode with expansive, filmic qualities. Swinging an’ a-swaggering, Bartering with Bob is endearingly confident and as high-spirited as a rollicking old standard (like Monk without piano!), Eagles responding articulately to the temerarious bass and drums of Luthert and Ford; and in the graceful meandering of The River, the string quartet’s eloquence and empathy with the Partikel trio is beautifully captured – here in particular, Eagles’ soprano impresses with Coltranesque abandon and invention.

Smouldering Wray Common softly grooves to udu, bass and smooth tenor, with fabulously expressive strings; and Eagles’ alchemistic tenor reading of Johnny Green’s familiar Body and Soul intertwines effectively with Matthew Sharp’s emotive cello and the Kronos-like spikiness of the quartet as a whole, all adorned by Ford’s elaborate percussion. Partikel ‘laid bare’ is as immediate as ever in Cover, soprano, bass and drums weaving their spell with customary vivacity; and searing string glissandi add verve to closing number The Landing, Eagles’ tenor wildly jitterbugging to Luthert’s and Ford’s rapid animation.

As a trio, Partikel have clearly become stronger, unafraid to venture into the unknown, and looking to develop their musical journey with both spontaneity and bravura. Released by Whirlwind on 11 May 2015, further information, promo video and purchasing can be found at the dedicated String Theory web page.

Duncan Eagles saxophones
Max Luthert bass
Eric Ford drums
with
Benet McLean violin
David Le Page violin
Carmen Flores viola
Matthew Sharp cello

Current 2015 tour dates
28 May: Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
2 June: LAUNCH – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
26 June: The Verdict, Brighton
28 June: Ashburton Live
29 June: North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
1 July: Fisher Theatre, Bungay

partikel.co.uk

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4671 (2015)

‘First Light’ – Andrew McCormack

FirstLight

‘MODERN CLASSIC’ is the recurring impression, each time I listen to this latest piano trio release, First Light, from Englishman in New York, Andrew McCormack.

The trajectory of McCormack’s jazz career has been fascinating to monitor since his 2007 debut album, Telescope, through to the more recent digital-only Live in London of 2012. In between, his musical partnership with saxophonist Jason Yarde (in two impressive duo recordings, as well as captivating live performances), revealed much about his personality and musical drive – and a relocation across the Atlantic to immerse himself in the American jazz scene has now, excitingly, increased his compositional/improvisational creativity and technical accomplishment to the heights that are to be discovered here.

Along with NYC rhythm section Zack Lober (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums), the pianist delivers a precise set of eight contrasting originals, plus a closing interpretation of Thelonious Monk – and, pleasingly, the overarching feel is one of an intelligent and inventive trio at ease with their connective artistry, which makes for the most heartwarming chamber jazz experience.

Bustling Prospect Park launches the album, perhaps suggesting the freedoms of Brooklyn’s urban oasis, McCormack’s morning-light piano seemingly dancing and cascading in the sun. The brisk, jaunty bass and drum tempo is particularly finely weighted, neither of the three players overshadowing the other, which enhances the sense of openness – and it’s a joy to experience McCormack’s exquisite keyboard touch throughout. Gotham Soul probes and twists to McCormack’s misterioso opening left-hand motif, gradually building in intensity but then pulling back to reveal a delicate double bass extemporisation against the combined subtlety of piano and drums – the communication lines here are most definitely clear, as the pianist closes with contrapuntal finesse. There’s a certain Monkish impudence and unpredictability to Leap of Faith, the trio’s jabbing punches transforming into McCormack’s effortless, melodic rolling across the keys to Lober’s steady, city-walking bass and Stranahan’s drumming intricacy.

Title track First Light summons the cerebral sound world of Bill Evans, such is the measured lucidity of all three musicians – but, specifically, it’s the incredible detailing of Andrew McCormack, from held-back droplet melodies, through rapid high runs and chordal saturation, and then back to final, sustained simplicity which vividly paints that very first, quiet glimpse of daybreak. Lober’s opening chromatic bass edginess in Reluctant Gift contrasts well, eventually breaking into more confident ground until the whole trio flies at impressive speed, inviting a hard-hitting show from Colin Stranahan until its unexpected… STOP! Reflecting the cityscape impressions of the cover art, Vista quietly patters through shifting major/minors, building and fading as if to emulate the changing patterns of a day in the US capital, pitching tranquillity against the heavy hydraulic hiss of sprawling traffic.

The River is more improvisatory in feel, ebbing and flowing to individual creative thoughts and a great combined bass and piano bass pulse, yet always cohesive. Its tense, jarring motifs are quite different to the earlier, reflective numbers; and elaborated live possibilities – hinted at by Stranahan’s colourful percussion – can easily be imagined. A brief interlude, Faith Remembered, recalls themes from the earlier Leap of Faith, expertly reinterpreting them into a pensive, perhaps melancholy, late-night piano solo. And then, to close, Thelonious Monk’s Pannonica, McCormack and his trio exchanging the writer’s trademark piano ‘clumsiness’ for a suitably bright’n’breezy evening walk in the park – full circle: first light to twilight.

Released on 7 July 2014 by increasingly successful British label Edition Records – superbly recorded/produced and packaged – First Light is available in digital and CD formats from their Bandcamp store. Certainly the mark of a consummate pianist/composer with a maturing, distinctive voice… and an album to treasure.

 

Andrew McCormack piano
Zack Lober double bass
Colin Stranahan drums

Edition Records – EDN1052 (2014)

‘Thymos’ – Matt Ridley Trio

MattRidley_Thymos

THIS DEBUT RELEASE from double bassist and composer Matt Ridley has been fascinating me for a number of weeks, as I repeatedly return to its charming blend of sophistication, mystery and vitality.

Ostensibly a piano trio album with John Turville (piano) and George Hart (drums), ‘Thymos’ begins with that same highly-charged energy that we have come to experience with the likes of e.s.t., Phronesis and Vijay Iyer – yet this is different. Firstly, it becomes clear that Eastern musical influences are being explored here (to great effect, I might add), and then there is the masterstroke of judiciously augmenting the trio on some numbers with the considerable talents of Jason Yarde (sax), Attab Haddad (oud) and Vasilis Sirkis (percussion). The result: an exciting and diverse programme – written or arranged by Ridley and led by his distinctly melodic bass technique – which pleasingly achieves his own vision of “a sound encompassing the exotic flavours and emotions of Middle Eastern music with the jazz sensibility of improvisation on complex structures”.

Following a freely improvised opening, the trio immediately display their connectedness on the strong, bass-driven Siamese Twins which unfolds into heady splendour, George Hart’s hard-hitting drum improvisation over a repeated piano and bass phrase heightening the fizz of this seven-minute opener. Theme and Variations – a touch of baroque in 9 – displays Ridley’s liking for a transparent bass melody, John Turville’s piano contributing the same clarity; and Hart simply shines with his equal show of strength and dexterity. It’s impressively balanced, right through to the delicate close.

Homage to Kenny Wheeler opens with Jason Yarde’s molten soprano flowing and skipping effortlessly to Hart’s changing rhythms… and, again, Ridley is so melodically lucid, Yarde needing no prompt to take flight (imagining KW’s flugel) in this soaring, upbeat tribute. The Middle Eastern flavour of the album is unlocked with Siddhartha, the trio spinning expertly through a repeated descending motif, Turville and Ridley sharing complex lines as well as independently improvising (Matt Ridley frequently engages melodically even when fulfilling more of a supporting bass role!). Again, George Hart’s drumming is key to the overall sparkle here, as he then leads percussively into The River, eventually paring it down to a luscious, spacial, heartfelt piano/bass ballad with shimmering cymbal decoration and an achingly beautiful high bass lead (especially magical through high-quality earbuds).

Jason Yarde’s playing is always so characterful, typified by the rebellious-then-sheepish growl just seconds into his introduction to Ridley’s arrangement of Sari Gelin – a slow-burning take on a traditional tune which also finds Attab Haddad and Vasilis Sirkis skilfully interweaving mystical oud and percussion. Title track Thymos picks up the momentum first heard at the head of the album to create another lively, snappy, trio performance – it’s such a gripping vibe, I’d swear there were more than three of them in there!

Hijaz (Matt Ridley’s arrangement of a piece by Attab Haddad, whose oud provides its atmospheric intro) raises the heat still further – an intoxicating, pulsating showstopper in which Turville and Yarde respond magnificently to the intensifying bass/drums/percussion-led frenzy. Then, finally, over a calming, bell-like percussion drone, Matt Ridley eases things down with typically intricate bass… leaving us to ponder the thrill of the journey.

Certainly now (for me) an on-loop favourite, ‘Thymos’ was released on 1 October 2013 by Whirlwind and can be sampled here, along with further information and video.


Matt Ridley
double bass  mattridleybass.com
John Turville piano  johnturville.com
George Hart drums  whirlwind/georgehart
with
Jason Yarde sax
Attab Haddad oud
Vasilis Sirkis percussion

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4643 (2013)