Soundtrack-style fusions in title track ‘Counteraction’ make it almost uncategorizable, as echoic layers of multi-double-stopped violin and electronics are balanced with tenor and percussion. The episodic invention in Max Luthert’s ‘Moving Fields’ takes the band into prog territory, full of raging complexity; and a zesty, New Orleans feel to ‘Bolden Days’ (a tribute to pioneer Buddy Bolden) is laced with bamboo flute inflections and blues-folk violin glissandi.
This album’s zeal is defined by strongly collaborative arrangements and explosive playing throughout – but then, to follow such an evolving course is a liberating process for the band: “Partikel will always have the acoustic trio at its heart. But opening ourselves to a range of genres such as electronica, as well as experiencing the music of different cultures, widens the appeal of our music, bridging gaps for audiences. Though we like to maintain a level of artistic integrity, to keep it challenging, it’s great that this is already happening.”
Since their Whirlwind debut as an acoustic trio (Cohesion, 2012), Partikel have progressively pushed at the developmental possibilities, and 2015’s String Theory – augmenting the line-up of Duncan Eagles (saxophones), Max Luthert (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) with string quartet – generated significant interest, spawning numerous gigs both in the UK and internationally. These live experiences (including a month touring China) saw the band’s sound climbing to new heights, enhanced by the work of violinist Benet McLean and super-sized with the creative blends enabled by digital harmonizers, pedals and programming.
So vibrant new release Counteraction shifts up yet another gear, with music crafted specifically around this forward-thinking approach, while also introducing atmospheric electric guitarist Ant Law, flautist and baritone saxophonist Anna Cooper, and electronic sound designer Sisi Lu. The compositions (mostly by Eagles) explore fascinating textural avenues, balancing and integrating them with the band’s original sax, bass and drums identity to create often strikingly unusual resonances. For example, their revisitation of previously-issued trio track ‘Blood of the Pharoah’ now elevates its spatial, percussive mystery through windswept ambience and cello, achieving greater dramatic intensity.
A cinemascopic aura of free-spirited storytelling is the key to this hour-long journey, the electronics and orchestral surge of ‘Land and Sea’ representing its title’s intended contrasts. ‘Scenes and Sounds’ is blurred with synthy urban abstractions which explode into the animated rhythms of Eagles, Luthert and Ford, accentuated by Law’s fretboard improvisations; and the afterglow cool of ‘Lanterns’, prompted by a visit to Beijing, quietly sparkles with impressionistic radio signals and teems with city life.