Sunday, January 1, 2012

Julian Siegel "Urban Theme Park"

CD: Urban Theme Park
This is my first time describing on paper (well at least in writing) my thoughts as a listener. I hope it provides a clear sense of my impression of the music, is basically technically correct, and is recognized as only one man's opinion.

In 2011, this Quartet record was one I enjoyed discovering, and I particularly enjoyed the variety of sounds that Siegel generates on his four wind instruments. While for me there are a few bumpy spots, they did not detract from my overall enjoyment and allowed me to stretch my boundaries as a listener. I am not sure much was made of it in the U.S. -- I do recall seeing a couple of positive reviews -- but I hope more people will take a chance and listen to it and recognize the talents particularly of Siegel and bandmate pianist Liam Noble.

Julian Siegel Quartet "Urban Theme Park" 2001, Basho Records UK --

JULIAN SIEGEL is a saxophonist from the UK who has worked with many of the top figures in the music. In 2007 he was awarded the BBC Jazz Award for Best Instrumentalist and he received the London Festival Fringe 2011 London Jazz Award. With the Julian Siegel Trio, Julian also plays alongside two stars of the US Improvised music scene, Drummer Joey Baron and Bassist Greg Cohen,  and they released the Album "Live at the Vortex' in 2009 (Basho).

His playing consists of both straight ahed and free-wheeling improvision, using tenor and soprano saxes and clarinet and bass clarinet. His backing trio includes Liam Noble, a leader in his own right (listen to his outstanding take on Dave Brubeck, on "Brubeck" 2009), Oli Hayhurst on bass, and Gene Calderazzo on drums.

From the entry of the bass, followed by piano and then the tenor of Siegel, the disk starts out with a quick, driving song "Six Four" which clearly demonstrates the strength and full tone of Siegel's playing. After a four minute ride with Siegel, there is an abrupt pause, and then Noble picks up with an equally upbeat piano interlude, with the strong backing of the bass and drums. Siegel comes back in and the quartet takes us to a rousing finish.

"One for J.T". is another upbeat romp featuring the tenor; then there is a downshift to a slower beat, with Siegel on clarinet for "Heart Song". Siegel plays a great deal in the upper register of the clarinet, and some nice accents are provided Calderazzo. Dropping out after about four minutes, Siegel allows Noble a response, again with a great deal of support from Calderazzo who switches to brushes as the piano recedes and the clarinet comes back in to bring the song home.

"Keys to the City" has a nice Latin beat laid out by piano and drums, and Siegel introduces the melody over this backing, playing his tenor which initially sounds like a clarinet. As the tempo picks up, the tenor takes off supported by the other players. Noble picks up from Siegel at the 3 minute mark for an extended run, dropping out at about 5 minutes for the first bass lead of the set, played over a light drum beat and gentle chordal playing by Noble on piano. Finally everyone enters again to bring the song to a close.

"Game of Cards", the longest piece on the CD, has it all, including bass and drum solos and outstanding soprano sax playing, with the tune passed back and forth among the players in its three parts. A quick shift of moods brings the players to "Lifeline", frankly my least favorite cut with its dissonance and use of what sounds like electronic effects (possibly keyboard effects?). But then a quick cut to the bass clarinet introduces "Interlude". Siegel demonstrates outstanding range on the instrument and a very clean, woody sound in his lower register. His opening solo goes about a minute, then the tempo picks up and the band comes in, with the piano echoing the bass clarinet part very nicely and underlying support from the bass and drums.

"Fantasy in D" is the only song not written by Siegel -- it is a Cedar Walton tune. Introduced by a drum solo, this boppish tune is nicely played by the band. "Drone Job" closes the set, and begins with a droning bass which underpins the introduction of the other players. Lots of sounds provide a strange atmosphere over which Siegel plays his tenor -- cymbals, electronics, long bass notes, rising and falling in intensity back the droning tenor melody. Finally, about halfway through the tempo picks up, though the electronics of the keyboard and strange sounds still underplay the tenor. All in all another "unusual" song -- not hard to listen to but definitely not what I would call a "mainstream" sound. By the last minute, the sound has grown in volume and layers, and becomes increasingly electronic (versus acoustic).

All in all, this is one of those disks to take a chance on if you want to step outside the lines so to speak. I know my friends who are into "straight-ahead" jazz will not like it, but others willing to open up to the new sounds of this and might find a lot they like.

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