Partisans came to Wolverhampton, celebrating two decades of UK jazz ascendancy. Martin Longley quaffed local Sacre Brew beer.
Wolverhampton Arena Theatre
Partisans have now been playing together for two decades, in a completely unchanging four-piece configuration. Bonds have been formed, lines have intertwined, rapport greases repertoire negotiation, and comfort encourages greater risk-taking. The band made several comments about savouring the Arena Theatre’s vibrations, and well they should, given that its acoustics are paramount, imbued with a softly glowing warmth and closeness.
The auditorium size is also just right for an intimate encounter, but for some inexplicable reason the audience count was very much lower than usual for this regular Wolverhampton jazz series. This didn’t inhibit Partisans, or divert them from delivering a prime pair of sets, abundant in energy, precision and potency.
The band have built up a substantial catalogue over the years, the evening’s repertoire dipping into different albums, from freshly composed numbers right back to long-silenced oldies. The exchanges between reedsman Julian Siegel and guitarist Phil Robson provide the melodic dance, and the majority of the dynamic solos, but electric bassist Thad Kelly frequently provides lines that can’t be forgotten, his aggressive amplifier tones pushing them out from the heart the storm.
Meanwhile, drummer Gene Calderazzo was in a sustained state of hyper-arousal, never letting up in his manic driving, keeping the momentum at full-force whilst continually embellishing with staccato bursts, rotary thundering and general targeted clatter. He played like this was going to be his final statement, his last word on the power of percussion.
They jumped straight out of the traps from the outset, with the rampantly overcharged Flip The Sneck finding Robson gratifyingly turning on the scuzz switch to sully his sound. His guitar is meaner when in this mode, as opposed to the softer John Abercrombie dapple-setting he alternatively employs. This is part of the crafty tactics used to alter the Partisans attack velocity, switching between studied calm and ripped-out fracas.
Your scribe hasn’t noticed such a thing before, but this combo frequently deal out frissons of Miles Davis, from his various stylistic eras, mostly the fusion periods of the early 1970s or ’80s, but also with an atypical melodic throwback to his classic All Blues. It’s not clear whether these are deliberate references or subliminal obsessions. Whichever way, they provide an appealing touch, without being overly dominant.
Robson announces that Siegel is “just about to don the goose, as we call it”, meaning his bass clarinet. Your scribe has never previously pondered this similarity, but now that image is graven into his temples, particularly suggesting the curve of the beer-pump for a Goose Island brew. This was the fastest change ever, for within moments he was back on the tenor saxophone again. Such is Siegel’s rich armoury of reeds, all resonantly played, with seethingly circuitous solos.
Close to the end, Partisans paid tribute to “that great mouse”, Mickey, with Mickey, Siegel getting into a creamy tenor statement, spaciously backed by his three cohorts. An audience member had cried out for Last Chance, a number from back in 2005, so the band had clearly reminded themselves how it went during the intermission, rolling forcefully into their encore, with a running clash between goose and guitar, suggesting fuzz bass and grunge-ing organ respectively, in their tonal qualities. Ultimately, Miles Davis was crushed under the Soft Machine!
Partisans play at The Red Lion in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter on Thursday night. Then, they land in Stratford-upon-Avon next week, on 25th November at 1 Shakespeare Street.
Pic – Garry Corbett