Julian Siegel Quartet Urban Theme Park Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

British reedsman furthers his reputation for mixing tradition with experimentation.

Martin Longley 2011

Over the last decade reedsman Julian Siegel has managed to balance his output between the electrified Partisans combo and his own acoustic quartet. He's done this in terms of artistic quality, touring frequency and a general accumulation of reputation. Working out of London, Siegel has established himself as one of the key players on the UK jazz scene, hanging on the edge between tradition and experimentation.

Mastering much of the saxophone and clarinet families, Siegel carries an assurance that his works will always feature a captivating tonal spread. The latest line-up for this combo features pianist Liam Noble, bassman Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo. There are many years of cross-pollination at play here, with relationships that have forged a unique musical bond.

The opening onslaught of Six Four makes a bold statement, tensed and directly targeted. Siegel trims away all potential frills and digs into a hurtling, riff-contorted tenor saxophone run, mostly mainline post-bop, with traces of a funk backdrop. There's barely a pause for inhalation before One for J.T. takes off, its speckled themes positively exuberant. Calderazzo delivers sharp accents on the cymbals and Noble jabs pointedly. Siegel's playing teeters between flowing abstraction and tangential investigation of his own themes. In other words, there's less of a division than usual between solo and head sections.

We're exhausted already, and so is the band; so Heart Song pauses for ballad reflection, with a luminously precise pairing between clarinet and piano. Hayhurst can't complain about a lack of bass spotlight opportunities, as he gets to solo prominently during Keys to the City and Game of Cards. This latter piece is a mini-suite that attains a propellant ramble as it reaches its peak at nearly 13 minutes.

There's not one but two odd-tracks-out, both featuring the acoustic Noble on his electric piano, armed with a nest of modulating effects pedals. The bleeps spout out throughout Lifeline, but Siegel remains lyrical along its central spine, creating sustained sheets of tonal spraying. The tune named Interlude is actually seven minutes long, opening with a throaty bass clarinet statement, then developing into a breezy caper. The second odd-one is the closing Drone Job, which is impressionistic after the fashion of Weather Report or early-1970s Miles Davis, revealing a completely alternative direction that this disc might have taken. Maybe this is a harbinger of Siegel's next stylistic swerve.

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