Duncan Eagles, Max Luthert, and Eric Ford – a piano-less sax/bass/drums acoustic outfit who ground their sound in free-ish bop and Cool School jazz – spread their wings here adding in the textures of a string quartet.

Five years on from their confident self-titled debut and three years since the more complex Cohesion was released, one of the interesting things here is to encounter Benet McLean on violin, a player better known as a hard bop pianist and for his jamming with trumpeter Andy Davies and earlier touring in Dennis Rollins’ Badbone & Co. McLean takes a significant solo in the spirit of a Max Bruch concerto on ‘Introduction to The Buffalo’.

Yet beyond the personnel minutiae this is Partikel’s first big statement as a mature unit having absorbed all their influences at last making a return on the promise and hope in the band invested by fans and admirers right from the start. It might be worth comparing String Theory to Tabula Rasa, Empirical’s own foray with strings, the differences not just in instrumentation and scale (vibes and more contemporary composition flavouring Nat Facey and Shaney Forbes’ quartet’s extraordinary sound) but also in levels of abstraction Partikel mainly choosing the slightly more obvious route back to the tonic.

Mostly saxophonist Eagles’ compositions (the string arrangements are his too), he has a romantic sweet tooth at times that is quite endearing but there is a savoury side too to his tenor statements that is explored enough for a different tonal sensation, the first three tracks forming a ‘Clash of the Clans’ suite Eagles coming across in a particularly poised way after the deliberate chaos of the first notes, his sound landing somewhere between Sonny Rollins’ and Joshua Redman’s.

Recorded at top studio Real World increasingly used for jazz recordings by a variety of labels, ‘Bartering with Bob’ will please the bop heads most and indicates how close the band are still to their jamming roots honed at Streatham club Hideaway and elsewhere when they were unknowns. Bassist Luthert, also known for his work with the Jamal-esque pianist Peter Edwards, has a great turn at the beginning of ‘Wray Common’ Eagles warm in repose against the rugged Indojazz rhythmic input while the surprise is ‘Body and Soul’ with its gorgeously Brahmsian introduction and further IndoJazz diversions. Definitely the best Partikel album to date, and an enjoyable listen, more to the point containing plenty of depth, sinewy improvising, and good ideas.

Stephen Graham

Released on 11 May