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Julian Siegel Trio - Live At The Vortex Rating: 4 out of 5 Positive, adventurous, accessible music full of ideas. One of the major British jazz releases of 2008

This trio featuring British saxophonist Siegel with The New York rhythm team of Greg Cohen (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) was initially conceived as a one off commission for the 2006 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Their festival appearance was such a success and the chemistry between the three players so obvious that they decided to make more music together.

Encouraged by Christine Allen of Basho Records the trio undertook a short UK tour in January 2007 including two nights at the Vortex in North London where this live double album was recorded. I was fortunate enough to see them on their return to Cheltenham as part of the same tour.

Basho are keen to encourage Anglo/American collaborations. Amongst their releases are “Romance Among The Fishes” which teams UK pianist Liam Noble and Siegel’s Partisans colleague Phil Robson (guitar) with the Americans Drew Gress (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). Rainey also appears on “Partita” (reviewed elsewhere on this site) a trio date led by UK saxophonist Julian Arguelles and also featuring US bassist Michael Formanek. Both albums are highly recommended. These two groups subsequently undertook a “double header” UK tour reviewed on this site under Liam Noble’s name.

Admirable as Arguelles’ and Noble’s projects were it is the Siegel Trio that appears to have the most mileage in it. This is evidenced not only by this marvellous album but also by the fact that the trio are to undertake another British tour in January 2009. Never the type of musicians to stand still they will doubtless be playing new material in addition to selections from this album.

Those of us that saw the trio on their 2007 tour have been waiting for this album a long time. It’s certainly been worth it for this is one of the major British jazz releases of 2008. A live double album of just reeds, bass and drums may seem a daunting prospect but the quality of Siegel’s writing, the sheer inventiveness of the playing and the incredible breadth of colour the trio achieve ensure that both sets are thoroughly absorbing throughout.

Their collective CVs make impressive reading. Siegel is one of the UK’s most versatile reed men, co-leader of jazz rock titans Partisans, leader of his own post bop quartet (featuring Liam Noble) and a side man on innumerable projects including section work with some of the world’s top big bands- those of Mike Gibbs and Hermeto Pascoal spring to mind.

Cohen has worked with Ornette Coleman and John Zorn, appeared on several Tom Waits albums and is a fixture on New York’s Downtown scene. He is also an in demand session player and film music arranger and has released two solo albums.

Baron’s pedigree is similarly impressive including work with Zorn, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. He also leads his own bands Killer Joey and Barondown. The versatile Baron is one of the most innately musical drummers around making him the ideal choice for this project.

Siegel took his inspiration from veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz’s trio recording with Cohen and Baron “Some New Stuff”. As a result Siegel’s tenor takes on a softer tone than that normally associated with the instrument. There is no grandstanding or declamatory honking, Siegel displays an agility, melodic inventiveness and lightness of tone that one does not normally associate with the larger horn. It’s all about getting to the essence of the music and with these master collaborators he does so brilliantly.
 
The music is comprised mainly of Siegel originals either written specifically for this project or substantially re-imagined (“Wigsworld” and “Sandpit”). Outside material includes an extraordinary interpretation of Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie” and Rudy Toombs’ “One Mint Julep” which proves a rousing album closer.

CD1 commences with “Atlantic”, ushered in by Cohen’s richly resonant bass. Siegel’s feathery tenor dances across the surface created by Cohen’s rich bass undertow and Baron’s coolly authoritative drumming. Siegel’s playing sounds unforced and natural and Cohen and Baron respond to his every move with grace and acumen, a trait that continues throughout the record.

The chemistry between the three players is apparent from the outset and their improvisations are full of melodic invention even in the most “out” moments as evidenced by “Wigsworld”, a tune taken from the first Partisans album and given a new lease of life.

Siegel is as at home on the bass clarinet as he is on the tenor. Witness his extraordinary solo introduction to “Alfie”, the rich woody timbres of the instrument being expanded upon by use of over blowing techniques. Siegel transforms Bacharach’s hoary old classic into something far more modern, a thing of fragile beauty. His interplay with Baron’s subtly atmospheric percussion is staggering.

The quirky “Stop Go Man” is livelier and a good summation of the title. It owes something to the compositional style of Charles Mingus and the ever imaginative Baron is again prominent. The always smiling Baron is another of those players who just loves what he’s doing and if he ever tires of the drums he always has his skills as an amateur magician to fall back on. Both talents depend on his remarkable sleight of hand.

“A Night At The Opera” closes the first disc and again features stunning interplay between Siegel’s tenor and Baron’s drums underpinned by the sturdy pulse of Cohen, the quiet,but indispensable, man of the group.

Disc two maintains the almost impossibly high standards, commencing with the slow burning “Incantation”.This features Siegel’s ruminative clarinet and bass clarinet cushioned by Cohen’s low register murmurings and Baron’s busy but delicate brush work. The piece is airy and lovely and unfolds constantly, including a darker middle section. The interplay between the three protagonists is engrossing and ensures that the listener’s attention never flags. 

“M.A.B” is the closest the album gets to an orthodox bop inspired sound and features an astonishing dialogue between Siegel’s lithe tenor and Baron’s drums.

The remarkable “Haunted Waltz” lurches from quirky, spooky fairground music to full on improvisation, culminating in an extraordinary solo from Baron who conjures an amazing array of sounds and colours from his kit throughout the piece.

“Sandpit” first appeared on Siegel’s quartet album “Close Up” (2002). The quirky, catchy theme is ideal for blowing on and the trio more than do it justice in their customarily brilliant manner. The central dialogue between Cohen and Baron is as stunning as all that has gone before.

“One Mint Julep” opens with Cohen’s agile but muscular bass and is a good natured way to close the album, it positively swings albeit in a wholly singular manner.

Words can’t really do the music on this album full justice. The Siegel trio totally transcend the apparent limits of the saxophone trio. This is positive, adventurous, accessible music, chock full of ideas but never “difficult”. Check out the album and better still check out the trio on their January tour. See http://www.juliansiegel.com for full details.

For a musician of his calibre Siegel has been grossly under recorded. This album plus a new Partisans record due next year go some way to redressing the balance.

Live At The Vortex

Julian Siegel Trio

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Live At The Vortex

Positive, adventurous, accessible music full of ideas. One of the major British jazz releases of 2008

This trio featuring British saxophonist Siegel with The New York rhythm team of Greg Cohen (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) was initially conceived as a one off commission for the 2006 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Their festival appearance was such a success and the chemistry between the three players so obvious that they decided to make more music together.

Encouraged by Christine Allen of Basho Records the trio undertook a short UK tour in January 2007 including two nights at the Vortex in North London where this live double album was recorded. I was fortunate enough to see them on their return to Cheltenham as part of the same tour.

Basho are keen to encourage Anglo/American collaborations. Amongst their releases are “Romance Among The Fishes” which teams UK pianist Liam Noble and Siegel’s Partisans colleague Phil Robson (guitar) with the Americans Drew Gress (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). Rainey also appears on “Partita” (reviewed elsewhere on this site) a trio date led by UK saxophonist Julian Arguelles and also featuring US bassist Michael Formanek. Both albums are highly recommended. These two groups subsequently undertook a “double header” UK tour reviewed on this site under Liam Noble’s name.

Admirable as Arguelles’ and Noble’s projects were it is the Siegel Trio that appears to have the most mileage in it. This is evidenced not only by this marvellous album but also by the fact that the trio are to undertake another British tour in January 2009. Never the type of musicians to stand still they will doubtless be playing new material in addition to selections from this album.

Those of us that saw the trio on their 2007 tour have been waiting for this album a long time. It’s certainly been worth it for this is one of the major British jazz releases of 2008. A live double album of just reeds, bass and drums may seem a daunting prospect but the quality of Siegel’s writing, the sheer inventiveness of the playing and the incredible breadth of colour the trio achieve ensure that both sets are thoroughly absorbing throughout.

Their collective CVs make impressive reading. Siegel is one of the UK’s most versatile reed men, co-leader of jazz rock titans Partisans, leader of his own post bop quartet (featuring Liam Noble) and a side man on innumerable projects including section work with some of the world’s top big bands- those of Mike Gibbs and Hermeto Pascoal spring to mind.

Cohen has worked with Ornette Coleman and John Zorn, appeared on several Tom Waits albums and is a fixture on New York’s Downtown scene. He is also an in demand session player and film music arranger and has released two solo albums.

Baron’s pedigree is similarly impressive including work with Zorn, Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. He also leads his own bands Killer Joey and Barondown. The versatile Baron is one of the most innately musical drummers around making him the ideal choice for this project.

Siegel took his inspiration from veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz’s trio recording with Cohen and Baron “Some New Stuff”. As a result Siegel’s tenor takes on a softer tone than that normally associated with the instrument. There is no grandstanding or declamatory honking, Siegel displays an agility, melodic inventiveness and lightness of tone that one does not normally associate with the larger horn. It’s all about getting to the essence of the music and with these master collaborators he does so brilliantly.
 
The music is comprised mainly of Siegel originals either written specifically for this project or substantially re-imagined (“Wigsworld” and “Sandpit”). Outside material includes an extraordinary interpretation of Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie” and Rudy Toombs’ “One Mint Julep” which proves a rousing album closer.

CD1 commences with “Atlantic”, ushered in by Cohen’s richly resonant bass. Siegel’s feathery tenor dances across the surface created by Cohen’s rich bass undertow and Baron’s coolly authoritative drumming. Siegel’s playing sounds unforced and natural and Cohen and Baron respond to his every move with grace and acumen, a trait that continues throughout the record.

The chemistry between the three players is apparent from the outset and their improvisations are full of melodic invention even in the most “out” moments as evidenced by “Wigsworld”, a tune taken from the first Partisans album and given a new lease of life.

Siegel is as at home on the bass clarinet as he is on the tenor. Witness his extraordinary solo introduction to “Alfie”, the rich woody timbres of the instrument being expanded upon by use of over blowing techniques. Siegel transforms Bacharach’s hoary old classic into something far more modern, a thing of fragile beauty. His interplay with Baron’s subtly atmospheric percussion is staggering.

The quirky “Stop Go Man” is livelier and a good summation of the title. It owes something to the compositional style of Charles Mingus and the ever imaginative Baron is again prominent. The always smiling Baron is another of those players who just loves what he’s doing and if he ever tires of the drums he always has his skills as an amateur magician to fall back on. Both talents depend on his remarkable sleight of hand.

“A Night At The Opera” closes the first disc and again features stunning interplay between Siegel’s tenor and Baron’s drums underpinned by the sturdy pulse of Cohen, the quiet,but indispensable, man of the group.

Disc two maintains the almost impossibly high standards, commencing with the slow burning “Incantation”.This features Siegel’s ruminative clarinet and bass clarinet cushioned by Cohen’s low register murmurings and Baron’s busy but delicate brush work. The piece is airy and lovely and unfolds constantly, including a darker middle section. The interplay between the three protagonists is engrossing and ensures that the listener’s attention never flags. 

“M.A.B” is the closest the album gets to an orthodox bop inspired sound and features an astonishing dialogue between Siegel’s lithe tenor and Baron’s drums.

The remarkable “Haunted Waltz” lurches from quirky, spooky fairground music to full on improvisation, culminating in an extraordinary solo from Baron who conjures an amazing array of sounds and colours from his kit throughout the piece.

“Sandpit” first appeared on Siegel’s quartet album “Close Up” (2002). The quirky, catchy theme is ideal for blowing on and the trio more than do it justice in their customarily brilliant manner. The central dialogue between Cohen and Baron is as stunning as all that has gone before.

“One Mint Julep” opens with Cohen’s agile but muscular bass and is a good natured way to close the album, it positively swings albeit in a wholly singular manner.

Words can’t really do the music on this album full justice. The Siegel trio totally transcend the apparent limits of the saxophone trio. This is positive, adventurous, accessible music, chock full of ideas but never “difficult”. Check out the album and better still check out the trio on their January tour. See http://www.juliansiegel.com for full details.

For a musician of his calibre Siegel has been grossly under recorded. This album plus a new Partisans record due next year go some way to redressing the balance.


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