Friday 14 February 2014

String Theory - Recording Partikel's 3rd Album

Duncan Eagles - Tenor Saxophone
Partikel are back and they are embarking upon a new venture. This is a third album with a difference for the London based trio who have made a name for themselves with their spikey brand of barebones Jazz. I was luckily enough to be invited to the Real World Studio near Bath to experience this latest incarnation. The step up for the Trio was the result of hard graft from tenacious frontman Duncan Eagles alongside the generous support of Arts Council Funding and their record label Whirlwind Recordings.

Shirley Smart -
Over the past 18 months Partikel have started to experiment with Strings. At first is was the Cello in private but soon they 'came out' with a very strong public performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer last June. Now it seems this addiction has taken over, not only a cello greeted me at the studio when I arrived on the 4th February 2014 but also a viola and 2 violins. The Jazz trio had fallen for the String Quartet and their lovechild was soon to be born.

Jose Tomaz Gomes
Real World is a much larger studio than the cosy Clown Pocket variety that Partikel are used to and they spread out accordingly. A massive horseshoe mixing desk occupies half of the Big Room, which is like a crepuscular cavern. Red light, square dots, blue, green and Venetian red dials, large whites with black rings, some jump left some right, 4 banks of zeros, 11 sets of ones, 2 twos, 6 threes and at the end of the desk another lonely zero. The engineer in control of this spaceship console is José Tomaz Gomes. A dark and gentle figure who will be our guide for the next two days.

Max Luthert - Bass
Max Luthert sets the early bass bounce on first tune 'Wray Common' with a triple trot and I feel the old pathos running through me, they are back! The meadow richness is not just present in the view from the studio window across Peter Gabriel's land but also in Eagles' tenor tone that opens up a musical panorama. These glimpses of gentle colour are truncated as we glimpse the saxophone's vistas from between rocks or gaptoothed  trees. This is followed by a gentle decent, past the warm bass undergrowth, as downy as Luthert's beard. There is the merest scent of a wild animal in these woods as the Quartet's strings run like veins across this landscape, with a dark taint they ooze a bone meal overflow. Duncan Eagles is freewheeling now as he rattles downhill and reaches the bottom with a final expulsion of breath.

Helen Sanders-Hewett
A big nod of the head sees the musicians tumble into 'Midnight Mass', Max Luthert desperately clings to the melody, his eyes as dark as chocolate minstrels and his left hand is like a claw. It is a cascading dancing tune with strokes of soporific beauty. Luthert is what we cling to, a grip on the bedstead before the last rattling call before the song ends. I hear the voice of Helen Sanders-Hewett (viola) through my headphones as she just says the word 'lush'.

Benet Mclean
The strings start to make their presence known, and amongst the quartet is a familiar face with an unfamiliar instrument in his hands. Benet Mclean is a polymath. We know Mclean as the dexterous piano player, composer and singer but it seems he is a violinist of some talent too. In fact over our dinner meal he tells me of his love of cricket and his prowess as a bowler/batsman for Middlesex youth sides. An all-rounder in every sense of the word he wasn't afraid to go it alone with a spirited solo on the next tune. This time I hear Shirley Smart's (Cello) voice in the post performance lull.
Left to right
Benet Mclean, Max Luthert, Duncan Eagles, Shirley Smart & Helen Sanders-Hewett

'One in Five' is the tune of the day so far. Benet Mclean was both imposing in my headphones and in reality, with his brooding intense demeanour you sometime you feel you are in the presence of an off duty Lenin. His solo was a tightrope walk, cutting and gritty while Duncan Eagles was flighty and fluid on Soprano saxophone. The tune starts with deep footsteps and then a fantastic twist like a child on a swing who has entwined the chain-linked ropes together in a centrifugal dare of vomit inducing proportions. The overall effect is one of a fable, a narrative where the musicians are characters in a adventure book, a world of building dams in streams and then knocking them down in the twilight before bedtime.

Richard Jones - Violin
I hear Mclean in upbeat mood, he shouts out "Lets go! give me the downbeat bro" as we wade into the next tune and the hours of twilight.  If you think you've heard 'The River' before you are not alone. It was one of the tracks on their debut album and here it was being given the full 'strings 'treatment'. It now has a full slide of green variegated shoots to accompany it and yet it still flows in those curled sweeps where the current takes you under the overhanging trees, through the deathly shadows and out the other side. With the accompanying strings there now exists a dragonfly that swoops above the water, alone at first but then joined by its own reflection. A parallel ballet with swoops and plummeting where the insect dances with its life. This is now a tussle between wind, water and Fate.

Dan Redding
Not everything was flowing smoothly it seems. I noticed Duncan Eagles shake his head in tiredness and frustration. In the early days of the collaboration between Partikel and their strings Eagles admits he was on a very steep learning curve. He has written all but one of the tunes on Partikel's three albums, but the addition of strings alongside saxophone, bass and drums was step into the unknown. Since then he has honed this skill and expectations have risen. As we entered the late hours it appeared that the results of the collaboration weren't reaching their intended pinnacle. He shook his head, looked at me and said "It's taking too long."

The arrival of the jazz filmmaker Dan Redding pepped up the troops and he regaled us all with anecdotes and witty quips before overdosing on red wine and eventually petering out.

Eric Ford - Drums
To wake oneself up you have to enter the lions den and I sketched Partikel's idiosyncratic drummer Eric Ford for the final recorded tune, 'Shimmer'. My attention was first taken by Max Luthert who danced a little jig throughout the recording, beating time from one foot to the other. He was a like a Eadweard Muybridge horse, with both feet in the air simultaneously but impossible to prove that fact unless you captured him photographically.

It was another impressive compositional performance from Duncan Eagles with Eric Ford providing the trotting and galloping rhythms. The sentiments 'Shimmer' evoked were far from the drizzling reality outside in the west country landscape. Here was a positivity, a modern anthem, a jazz folk equivalent to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I felt like taking Eric Ford out on a carousel of English Country dances along the Mendip Hills, arm in arm we would square dance until the sun came up. Luckily I though better of it, after all I was sharing a mezzanine floor with Ford tonight and I didn't want him to get the wrong idea.


I will be writing up Day 2 of the recording shortly....

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