IMC BACKSTAGE: Interview with Phil Robson from Partisans

A trailblazing progressive-jazz quartet, and current holders of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Jazz CD of the Year for their album ‘Swamp’, Partisans is co-led by guitarist Phil Robson and saxophonist Julian Siegel with Thaddeus Kelly on bass and Gene Calderazzo on drums. This quartet are renowned for their thrilling live shows, pumping out groove-based sounds with burning post bop, no messin rock outs, spacious reflections and heavy hooks.

Ahead of Partisans much awaited return to Ireland this weekend, we caught up with guitarist Phil Robson, co-leader of this seminal band whose importance to the British music scene is frequently noted;

 "Godfathers of the ferocious UK 'post-jazz' scene" - The Times

Phil Robson is an influential figure in contemporary British music. Along with Partisans he is also the leader of his Organ Trio with Ross Stanley and Gene Calderazzo, the Immeasurable Code Quintet feat. Mark Turner, and regular sideman with Christine Tobin (Best Vocalist 2014 Parliamentary Jazz Awards). His other bands have included Six Strings & the Beat, Phil Robson trio (with Billy Hart & James Genus), Phil Robson Quartet featuring David Liebman & Jeff Williams. Phil has worked with many artists as diverse as Kenny Wheeler, Django Bates & Barbra Streisand. Phil was awarded Jazz Musician of the Year in the UK 2009 Parliamentary Jazz Awards and has recorded five albums under his own name on Babel and Whirlwind Recordings, including a commission for Six Strings & the Beat.


How long has it been since your last Partisans shows in Ireland?

I actually don't know how long it is but it's definitely been many, many years. We're really happy that having the gig in the Limerick Jazz Festival on Sept 23rd & in Dublin on the 24th September will give us an opportunity to bring our music to Irish audiences again & we look forward to catching up with old friends.


Partisans latest record ‘Swamp’ is getting great reviews. With 5 Partisans albums under your belts, how do you all approach a new studio recording? What has changed over the years?

We've changed our approach quite a lot over the years. The first 3 albums were all recorded after touring the music quite extensively before going into the studio but 'By Proxy' & 'Swamp' were done the opposite way round. With 'Swamp' particularly, the music was written, rehearsed & recorded over a very short period of time. Both ways work very well for us but there was something very fresh about recording with no preconceived idea of the shape of the music & discovering what that was as it was recorded. Having said that, we still feel that 'Sour Puss', our second album really captured the spirit of the band, as it sounded live at that time, so I guess you could say all the albums have very different qualities.


When you formed Partisans did you envision that you would be still making music as a unit 20 years later?

We had no idea that the band would last this long. It was formed during an incredibly exciting time of my life personally & I don't think we would have even thought about how long it would last as we were so caught up with trying to really get the band off the ground. Myself & Julian had to learn so much about dealing with the music business, organising tours, etc that we had no time to think about anything else apart from the music, but we were so happy that we had found a group of people who were really committed to playing together & that the music had a strong identity, almost instantly, because of our collective influences.


Phil, you recently relocated to New York. Has being in this new environment been a catalyst for change in your approach? How different is it to London? What do you miss about UK?

New York is very different to London & the music scene is bigger, but they are both enormous, multicultural cities, so there are many similarities too. Jazz is more intrinsic to day-to-day life for people in NYC because of the history of the music there. It's not really bringing about any particular change in my approach but is a continuation of my development and of course our environment affects us all, but we are all constantly developing, wherever we may be based. I miss being able to see my close friends more than anything, but it's still very early days for me in NY so there is a lot of excitement around that. I couldn't cope without proper cups of tea but anyone who visits brings that over so we're well stocked up! David O'Rourke (great Irish guitarist based in NY & artist in residence at Limerick Jazz Fest this year) often pops round for a brew!


Both you and Julian are very prolific artists, involved in multiple projects of different styles and formations. How does Partisans compare with the other projects?

Partisans is definitely different to any other project. It's the most electric band I'm involved with to name one thing, but that happened very naturally & was not a conscious decision to go that way. We are very good pals who have grown up together musically & we have many laughs & great fun when we play together so I think that is a major factor in the longevity of the band. I'm very much looking forward to seeing them all.


What’s next for you, outside of the Partisans tour?

I'm still developing my organ trio which Gene Calderazzo also plays in, alongside the great Ross Stanley on organ, although the music is very different to Partisans & we tour the UK in November 2016 with that. Julian has formed a big band, which will be really fantastic, and he has his own quartet. Meanwhile I'm forming new relationships in New York, so a project will appear from that soon.


And more importantly, what’s next for Partisans?

We hope to bring out a new album in 2017 & we are concentrating on getting the band out into Europe generally a lot more over the next two years. We have always worked on individual projects, sometimes taking time out from the band & then we bring back our experiences from those other projects to Partisans, which keeps it fresh so we will keep doing that & who knows, maybe there is another 20 years ahead.


Finally, where do you see jazz in 20 years?

Jazz has always been a terrific melting pot, which adapts to its environment so it will always be around. We're gradually losing some of the giants in the history of the music, so that is really going to force us into a new era but I always feel positive as so many amazing players just keep coming. Speaking of giants, I was very sad to hear of the loss of Louis Stewart. He was truly one of greats of jazz guitar. He's a fine example though, because he influenced & played with so many younger players who will continue to make great music & bring the experience of that connection into their work. I was lucky enough to spend a week with Louis in Spain many years ago, hearing him play every night and I treasure that memory.


Catch Partisans at Limerick Jazz Festival on Friday 23rd September or in Wigwam, Dublin 1 on Saturday 24th September 


“Engaging writing, exuberant improvisation, and music that pursues Miles Davis' latter-day project of combining jazz finesse with rock's electric thrill.” - London Jazz News

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