Think of strings and jazz and you immediately cast your mind back to those epic historical recordings of Charlie Parker, or the ‘Focus’ album by Stan Getz. However, in the twenty-first century where jazz musicians are just as likely to be well grounded in western classical as in jazz, the combination is a more balanced one with the two genres equal partners and so it proves on this exciting and thrilling album from Partikel, one of the most refreshing British albums to have surfaced this year and funded thanks to a Lottery project. An all original set of compositions are composed by leader and multi-reedist Duncan Eagles who is to be commended for undertaking such a hazardous projects and pulling it off with such aplomb.
The album was in fact recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Bath, and perhaps that historical legacy of world roots fusion of recordings there (Papa Wemba, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Remmy Ongala etc.) has worked wonders here for all the musicians concerned. Rather than merely embellish the jazz component, here the strings are active participants and in any case the traditional jazz rhythm section has been dispensed with altogether which opens up the sound to a whole new range of influences. One of the most atmospheric pieces includes bass and drums, the latter used most creatively, on ‘Wray Common’ and it is the combination of lush strings and repeated bass line that makes this number so enjoyable. The make up of four strings with two violins, viola and cello leads to an interesting blend of improvisation and there is a cleansing quality to the strings throughout the album that is admirable. On the third part of a suite, ‘Midnight Mass’, strings and saxophone combine to wonderful effect with the plucked sound of the violins. This technique is continued on ‘Shimmer’ where there is Chinese feel conjured up by the viola solo and a lovely warm tenor saxophone solo. If neo-bop hues are present on drum and tenor in tandem on ‘Bartering with Bob’, then western classical is in the ascendancy on ‘The River’, where the strings add something of a film soundtrack sensibility and the use of soprano saxophone that extra layer of sophistication. Partikel performed in early June as part of the String Quartet festival in London.