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Partisans – By Proxy

(Babel)

The sleeve notes to By Proxy quote Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” But what Partisans express is not the arcane or ineffable but rather a straightforward affection for a rather uncontroversial jazz, probably circa whenever it was that Eric Dolphy was playing with Coltrane. The Partisans know what they are doing too, with guitarist Phil Robson and sax and clarinet player Julian Siegel both playing exceptional roles. As with Dolphy the feel is often toward a sort of brawny sophistication, but while Dolphy could drive that feeling somewhere into the outer-realms of hovering-at-the-edge-of meaning, brain-bending alarm, Partisans mostly keep their feet attached firmly to the ground.

The difference leads out of considerations of style into weightier matters of meaning and the ultimate clout of the music. With Dolphy every note pushes out against the world, fighting to wrench form from pure air, and every note comes with a lick of sweat, while Partisans prefer gliding along in the slipstream of other people’s invention. It’s not always Dolphy or Trane that provide the framework either – there’s a decent take on Ellington’s Prelude to a Kiss and occasional forays into something broadly fusiony. Sometimes it turns out passably fine, especially on Wayne Krantz’s Partisans #1, but for the most part, despite plenty of enjoyable stretches, By Proxy misses out on compositional or emotional focus.

-Andy Wilson-

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