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Reviews of Partisans


29/06/2009 Chris May AllaboutJazz.com

"London band Partisans has been making the hair stand up on the back of audiences' necks with its supercharged collision of jazz and rock since 1996. By Proxy is the band's fourth album following the acclaimed Max (Babel, 2005), which was the most effective recreation of Partisans' ferocious live sound in the recording studio up to that date.

Max was a monster. By Proxy is even better. Like its predecessor, it conveys much of the impact of the group live, but is also a cleverly conceived studio set, in which the group's multi-layered, rhythmically sophisticated, twisting and turning arrangements reveal new points of interest each time they are heard. The gumbo of genres touched on is the same as before—updated electric Miles Davis, bop, hard bop, rock and funk (of the intelligently bootalicious Parliament/Funkadelic type), even an occasional taste of heavy metal—but the blend is deeper, displaying those degrees of collective energy and focus which only a stable, working band can achieve after years of playing together.

Partisans is co-led by reed player Julian Siegel and guitarist Phil Robson, each of whom has recently released an outstanding solo album. Siegel's double CD Live At The Vortex (Basho, 2009), made with Americans Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums, is one of the year's great saxophone albums. Robson's Six Strings And The Beat (Babel, 2008), made with a string quartet, is an elegant electric guitar and chamber music outing, all the more delightful for having apparently come out of nowhere. Good things are said to come in threes, and By Proxy completes the sequence.

Siegel and Robson are Partisans' chief composers—between them they wrote all the tunes on By Proxy with the exception of Wayne Krantz's "Partisans #1" and Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" (like it's never been heard before)—but the high energy contributions of bassist Thaddeus Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo, a long-time American resident in London, are key to the band's sound. Kelly, in addition, is responsible for the daring, electronica-seeped mix-down of "Prelude To A Kiss," featuring Siegel's delicately poised saxophone over urgent, rapid-fire bass, drums and effects-laden guitar.

True to form, there aren't many ballads on By Proxy, and it's not until track six, "Munch," a feature for tenor saxophone and acoustic guitar, that there's a sustained softening of the ambiance. But the arrangements of the other tunes, with their unexpected but always on the money diversions, tributaries, meter morphs and secondary themes, provide plenty of internal contrasts and varied dynamics. "Partisans #1" and "Advance" are both jewels of serpentine, post-Miles Davis, electric jazz/rock; the first features Siegel on bass clarinet, the second soprano saxophone over a tricksy electric guitar and bass ostinato. The heavy metal tinged "By Proxy" takes a more relentless path.

Partisans' long expected masterpiece, By Proxy is one of the most exciting albums to be released on either side of the Atlantic in 2009."


06/06/2009 Peter Bacon The Jazz Breakfast

Partisans: By Proxy (Babel BDV2983)
'This is only the fourth album Phi Robson, Julian Siegel, Thaddeus Kelly and Gene Calderazzo have recorded as Partisans, which seems extraordinary to me as they seem to have been around for much of my adult life. This is clearly a case of selective memory telescoping on my part as in fact they have been in existence for 13 years (I only know because I checked) and I have been a so-called adult for an awfully lot longer than that.

Anyway, By Proxy, the music of which the band has been showcasing in gigs around the country over the past weeks – I caught them at the Lichfield Jazz & Blues Festival where they were punchy as hell – is a very strong indeed collection of tunes and playing. The fact that although they might play in countless other bands they keep returning to this one and regard it more as a live band than a recording one (four discs in 13 years is the evidence for that) means that its four members are remarkably familiar with each other’s playing, twists and turns, strengths and other things, and so the group dynamic and interaction is an almost organic thing.

I always think of the word “fusion” with a wry smile when I hear Partisans, because I think the jazz-rock style of the 1970s acquired such a bad name for its excesses that its strengths are often forgotten. And Partisans seem to me to embody many of them.

Advance is the first track here and has that da-da……… da-da……… bass and drums beat that Miles liked to use in his electric period – full of space and just a hint of menace. It also has the electric guitar and soprano saxophone sounds that went that Miles sound at at the time.

The title track is a tour-de-force of Partisans at its chameleon-like best, shape-shifting and colour-changing through various tempi, beats, melodic riffs, and instrumental timbres.

Mirrors also has some of those tempo-changes and odd accents – here is the fusion legacy again. Yellowjackets sometimes seem like a reference point, though Partisans are more experimental and off-the-wall than the American band, I think they would probably mutually appreciate each other’s music.

MBadger has one eight-note riff that keeps appearing, and another one where sax and wah-wah guitar make a kind of tongue-pointing, “so there” gesture that sounds both rather childish and extremely liberating. The interplay in the whole band but especially from Robson and Siegel in their long, intricate harmony lines is astonishing.

Lapdog has an almost bluegrass speed to the guitar and sax lines, while Munch eases the pace with a slightly eerie acoustic guitar and tenor excursion that could be a soundtrack for some film noir – it has oily puddles and reflected neon in it, for sure. And that’s just on the way to look at Edvard’s pictures, presumably.

The finale is a hugely funky take on Ellington’s Prelude To A Kiss, that somehow touches on Kraftwerk, drum ‘n’ bass, space music, and some terrific tenor atmospherics.

All in all, I can’t recommend this disc highly enough. Thoroughly original, thoroughly of its time and also completely fitting to have the name jazz written on it. And, in case I forgot to mention it, what with all the time changes and timbral excitement, it has some real beauty to it too.'


05/06/2009 Kenny Mathieson

PARTISANS: BY PROXY by Kenny Mathieson

'PARTISANS are one of the most consistently inventive and original bands currently working in jazz, and this is the strongest recording they have released. The London-based quartet features guitarist Phil Robson, saxophonist Julian Siegel, bassist Thaddeus Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo. The band's edgy, energised sound and imaginative soloing is always absorbing, and the manifest rock and funk influences on their music are always fully integrated into the overall sound and concept. Robson and Siegel provide four and three compositions respectively here, alongside Wayne Krantz's Partisans #1 and a remarkable electronica-infused reworking of Duke Ellington's Prelude To A Kiss. While Robson's multifaceted guitar work and Siegel's fluid outings on tenor and soprano saxophone and bass clarinet grab the attention, the contributions of Kelly and Calderazzo are equally crucial elements in creating the band's distinctive sound and palpable sense of collective engagement.


04/06/2009 John Bungay THE TIMES ONLINE

Partisans: By Proxy
John Bungey

This foursome are often cited as godfathers of the ferocious “post-jazz” groups. But Partisans’ electric bass riffs and rock/jazz crossovers also hark back to 1970s bands such as Soft Machine and Nucleus. That’s no bad thing, though, as the group regularly builds an irresistible momentum, especially when Phil Robson’s guitar is let off the leash.



01/06/2009 Jazzwise, June 09

'Partisans are that very good thing, an unclassifiable band.'


01/06/2009 Duncan Heining - Jazzwise June 2009

“If the first impression is immediate, 'BY PROXY' has all the power and personality needed to keep you coming back, the playing is superb… filled with hooks and riffs and sly twists and turns. By Proxy bears out Partisans' status as one of the UK's finest bands. What was promised is now confirmed. This is totally a group sound and identity. The writing gels perfectly with the arrangements, the solos arise logically and precisely out of the ensembles and there are hints of where the group are heading in the future. Words and phrases such as 'hard edged' and 'high energy' are often bandied around but here they apply, and the sheer power and joyous swing that the rhythm section sustain throughout these nine tracks give the record much of its fire and edge"


01/07/2008 Peter Bacon Birmingham Post

'This is a very exciting time for British jazz and Partisans are one of the prime reasons for this.'


07/06/2005 BBC Radio 3 Jazz Line Up

'One of the most exciting all star experimental groups in Jazz today'


01/06/2005 Kevin LeGendre Echoes

"'Max' is a statement of both adventure and maturity from a group that is definitely firing on all cylinders"


06/05/2005 Martin Longley

It's been five years since Partisans released Sourpuss (also on the Babel Label), but this London-based quartet have remained a vital force on the live circuit. Their belated new disc is dedicated to Max Roach, who began his career drumming for Charlie Parker in the 1940s, and never ceased to be an innovator over the next five decades.

Most of its tunes are penned by reedsman Julian Siegel and guitarist Phil Robson, with the other two band members sitting out of the compositional duties. Nevertheless, the presence of bassist Thad Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo is crucial to the Partisans signature style. The core membership is augmented on several tracks by Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Thebe Lipere (percussion) and Jim Watson (Hammond B3 organ), thickening up the already larger-than-life arrangements.

The album opens with a brief snatch of Bird's "Klact-Oveeseds-Tene", which metamorphoses into Siegel's own "Max". It's an extremely tight unison rush, showering solos over a tensed funk bounce. Robson has picked up a few deranged effects-box tricks from US guitarist Wayne Krantz, with whom the foursome collaborated in 2003. Garble, mangle and distort, he goes...

The quartet have very active minds, packing much information into each number, but by the third one in, they recline and yawn for "Partisans #2", which was written by Krantz. Its dappled contemplation brings Siegel's throaty bass clarinet shadings to the fore, but the driving momentum soon returns with "The Eskaton". Despite such pounding forcefulness, Partisans are continually making detours, surprising with their detailed embellishments. "Last Chance" ends up in a similarly exultant state, following its tranquil introduction.

Their reading of David Bowie's "John, I'm Only Dancing" continually frustrates the listener by denying the expected pace. It's taken at an impressionistic rate, then shifts into a bluesy mid-section, sluiced with Hammond B3. They tease and tease, but eventually there's a gratification, expertly timed.

Partisans are one of the best bands on the UK scene, benefiting from the stability of their line-up and imbued with a cerebral passion that is perfectly balanced between cool complexity and fiery emotion.


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