Partisans ‘Nit de Nit’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

Partisans are one of those bands that absolutely nail it live. They can fill any venue with a wall of sound while their playing remains crystal clear and approachable. So, it seems appropriate that this latest recording is their first live one.

Nit de Nit was recorded at The Vortex in London in September 2018 and features the line-up that has been the same since they formed over 20 years ago (it was at the original Vortex that they got their first break). And it is dedicated to the late David Mossman who founded the club.

Guitarist Phil Robson may have relocated to New York but he is still often in the UK with his partner Christine Tobin or with Partisans and other formats. I missed the recent Partisans gig at the Eastside Jazz Club in Birmingham but did catch him in NYC in January. What is remarkable is the sheer range he covers from standards through contemporary jazz to what I guess is best described as the Jazz/Rock of Partisans. A couple of years ago at the Birmingham Jazz legends Festival he segued from a relaxed turn with Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents to a full-on Partisans electric sound at the very next gig.

Co-leader and tenor and soprano sax and bass clarinet player Julian Siegel is also a man of many jazz talents leading his own quartet and recently writing and performing with his own large jazz orchestra commissioned by Derby Jazz. Gene Calderazzo is one of my favourite drummers – by turns driving, fast and accented and then subtle and supporting. Thaddeus Kelly on bass is the player I have heard least – only with Partisans so far – but his work is always grooved.

Having set the scene for this recording to be a full-on assault (in a good way) on the ears, once you start listening there is flexibility and range here. For sure you get the signature Partisans room-filling sound but there are other things to enjoy.

There’s a boppish start with a quote from Bird’s Klactoveedsedstene (but spelt wrong…) rolling into Max initially bop-like from Siegel but quickly moving into jazz-rock territory with McLoughlin-esque lines from Robson with signature hot drumming from Calderazzo.

‘That’s Not His Bag’ takes it down a notch with a funky theme and some great solo work from Siegel and fast lines from Robson. The title track ‘Nit de Nit’ hints again at bop before kicking off into a fast swinging feel with another fast and intricate solo from Robson and then some free-ish playing from Siegel over the top of the band before a bluesy slowdown lulls you and then Calderazzo kicks to the end.

Apart from the Bird quote, Bowie’s ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ is the only other tune not penned by the band members. It’s given a bluesy, choppy, slower tempo feel and it works with Thaddeus prominent. ‘3.15 On the Dot’ has Siegel on bass clarinet, with some lovely low notes, again at a slower tempo with some dreamy flanging guitar from Robson.

You think ‘The Overthink’ is going to be flat out heavy Partisans but it varies with a rocking guitar from Robson and funky bass and of course accented by Calderazzo. Siegel takes it on strongly over a lighter backing from bass and drums.

‘Eg’ (for Egberto Gismonti) starts with lovely, almost Brazilian, guitar and moves into a speedy feel with continuing light guitar and matching sharp soprano from Siegel. ‘Pork Scratchings’ is more of a medium paced strut with Kelly underpinnings with some far-out electronics in there too. ‘Last Chance’ has another slow and quieter opening with more bass clarinet for a couple of minutes before it hots up into classic Partisans middle with melt-your-face guitar before slowing back down for some more lyrical bass clarinet to uncharacteristic quiet fading finish.

Throughout the recording is really well done – most of the time you would imagine it was captured in the studio with only small bits of audience sound mostly at the end of tracks but they response from the audience at the end is spontaneous and heartfelt – it must have been a great gig to be at.

Turn it up loud!

Brian Homer

Tour dates:
20th September 2019 – The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston London
21st September 2019 – 1000 Trades, Birmingham
22nd September 2019 – Scarborough Jazz Festival, Scarborough
23rd September 2019 – NQ Jazz at The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
26th September 2019 – Jazz Steps, Bonington Theatre, Nottingham
27th September 2019 – Lighthouse Studio Jazz, Sherling Studio, Poole