CD REVIEW: Partikel - String Theory

Partikel - String Theory
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4671. CD Review by Jon Carvell)

Physicists should note that this particular discussion of String Theory involves Partikel rather than particles, and a string quartet instead of theoretical strings. Partikel’s new album fuses the London-based sax, bass and drums trio with two violins, viola and cello (Benet McLean, David Le Page, Carmen Flores and Matthew Sharp). Saxophonist Duncan Eagles, the group’s leader, saw the inclusion of strings as a compositional challenge to himself, “I wanted to really try and push myself in all areas” he explains. It’s a brave move to pin an album on such an experiment, but one which pays dividends in the listening.

String Theory opens with Clash of the Clans, a three movement suite which itself begins with a burst of chaotic string noise before settling into a polished arrangement. The part writing is inventive and the strings are neatly interwoven into the trio’s textures, taking turns to accompany, lead and take solos – Benet McLean with a fine violin solo (the first of many on the album).

The second movement of the suite, Seeking Shadows, is a well-placed contrast to the slick first track. Emerging from the pitter-patter of Max Luthert’s bass ostinato, the piece unfolds mysteriously, and Eagles finds some beautiful lines on soprano sax. In fact this was a piece which evolved directly from improvisation whilst touring and was left relatively unprescribed even when the tape was rolling.

Introduction to the Buffalo, a full track of solo violin prelude, has classical echoes of Ysaÿe’s violin sonatas in its double and triple stopping. Duly introduced, The Buffalo proves to be one of the best tracks on the album. An exotic mood is evoked through Eric Ford’s tabla playing, and the sax and high strings combine on soaring modal melodies, redolent of the Kronos Quartet.

Elsewhere we find the trio swinging hard by themselves in Bartering for Bob, and Cover is another more standard trio outing which shows off the economy and panache of Partikel and their ability to do a lot with just three players. Unlike its astrophysics namesake, Partikel’s String Theory won’t help you understand the universe, but this is listenable and inventive jazz from a band refusing to rest on their laurels.

The London launch of String Theory is at Pizza Express Dean Street on June 2nd, the opening night of the String Quartet Festival.


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