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With an authority developed over two decades on the circuit, Partisans are proud to unleash their first live album, Nit De Nit, recorded at London’s Vortex Club. Across this rezzed-up hour-plus of back-catalogue reinventions and new delights, electric guitarist Phil Robson, saxophonist Julian Siegel, electric bassist Thaddeus Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo command the stage with inimitable joie de vivre.
As writers and co-leaders, Robson and Siegel had long thought of releasing a live account of their dynamic shows: “We’ve played many memorable gigs over the years and wanted to capture that energy, in the great tradition of jazz recording.” And though Partisans’ music is carefully conceived, the emphasis is on collective improvisation, explains Phil: “There’s something particular about the way this band gets its material together – we need to play live to get a glimpse of how it’s going to be. Our writing simply sets it in motion, with nothing set in stone, because everyone brings so much personality to it.”
There’s a sense of occasion, nowadays, when they gig in the UK, especially after Robson’s relocation to New York; and the Vortex holds special relevance for Partisans. “The band got its break at the old Vortex (in Stoke Newington) which, in the mid-1990s, was like our local club”, says Siegel. “Back then, most venues were pretty straight-ahead, but that was such a melting pot.” Their sound has evolved significantly from more acoustic origins – inspired along the way by the likes of Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Dave Holland’s Extensions band – into the rock-heavy powerhouse it is today.
A quotation from Charlie Parker’s ‘Klact-oveeseds-tene’ preludes ‘Max’ (from Partisans’ album of the same name), an homage to Max Roach, whose audacious rhythms grace the original Parker recording. As Calderazzo replicates his intricacy (four bars of five, then four of three), the band launch into their own heady bebop celebration, Siegel and Robson unifying its perky riffs. Sidewalk-grooving ‘That’s Not His Bag’ (after pandemonium boarding a flight) hints at Steely Dan; and ‘Nit De Nit’ (hear that call-and-answer) suggests Parker again, only to snap into impressively-synced frenzy and fast swing.
Siegel’s shamelessly brash blues arrangement of ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, from a classic Bowie songwriting era, indicates a massive Miles influence. A groundhog’s punctual daily arrival in Robson’s New Jersey garden is behind ‘3:15 (On the Dot)’, Siegel’s bass clarinet emphasising tentative footfall around lush guitar chords and improvisational freedom. Punky ‘The Overthink’ is titled following an official’s reassurance to Siegel in boarding the right train: “Don’t overthink it”, while the guitar hues of ‘Eg’ (Egberto Gismonti) provide a Brazilian flavor. Swaggering mash-up ‘Pork Scratching’ features fine percussive detail and bass-pedal electronics before the set closes to koto-like ‘Last Chance’… with a ferocious sting in the tail.
“The band’s early days seem like a lifetime ago!”, admits Robson. “But, alongside being old friends, it’s the exceptional energy which keeps us invigorated – we have such a great time.” Partisans’ superb live recording suggests there’s no stopping them.
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