Partikel String Theory Quartet at The Bull’s Head, Barnes

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Partikel’s third album String Theory follows on from 2012’s Cohesion and finds a new cohesion in an impressive integration of jazz trio and strings. The group have recently adapted this live as a quartet with the album’s arranger and violin player Benet McLean.

On new tunes ‘Land and Sea’ and ‘Scenes and Sounds’ McLean’s violin solos are rich in Eastern European style ornamentation, with filmic themes reminiscent of Preisner’s music for Kieślowski. An outstanding soloist with a penchant for quotation McLean playfully relates snatches of Stravinsky and ‘My Favourite Things’.

To simulate the new textures that the strings provided on the album the violin and sax go through electronic stomp boxes. A ‘Blue Hippo’ analog chorus pedal gives the Duncan Eagles’s saxophone some skronk during ‘The Blood of the Pharaoh’, reminiscent of recent Polar Bear’s echo-drenched palette but with a greater sense of compositional structure and drama.

“The Landing”, which closes both the album and their first set, dramatises Eagles’s nervousness about air travel not the flying itself, but the landing. It depicts the carnage of landing and the peace of flying but it’s not that straightforward. The flight isn’t peaceful. Over Max Luthert’s ultrashort bass figure the sax and violin weave long and unsettlingly harmonised themes that hold back from a neat resolution.

When they break out with Eric Ford’s tumbling drum work and Eagles’s punchy soloing the music really takes off. Working with just one string player lets them explore the textural dynamic of String Theory but with the flexibility of a quartet. Partikel recently completed a monthlong tour of China, flying everywhere, and Eagles isn’t nervous any more about flying (or landing). They considered dropping the tune, but it’s such a soaring end to the set you’re glad they didn’t. A quartet album is due next year.

        AJ Dehany