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Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra

Tales from the Jacquard

by Ian Mann

July 09, 2021


Siegel masterfully deploys rhythm, colour and texture to create a lustrous ensemble sound, but still with ample scope given for a hand picked bunch of brilliant soloists to express themselves.

Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra

“Tales from the Jacquard”

(Whirlwind Recordings, WR4774)

Julian Siegel – tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet

Nick Smart - conductor

Stan Sulzmann – tenor saxophone

Tori Freestone – tenor saxophone, flute

Jason Yarde – alto & soprano saxophones

Mike Chillingworth – alto saxophone

Gemma Moore – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet

Tom Walsh, Percy Pursglove, Henry Lowther, Claus Stotter – trumpets & flugelhorns

Trevor Mires, Mark Nightingale, Harry Brown – trombones

Richard Henry – bass trombone & tuba

Mike Outram – electric guitar

Liam Noble – piano

Oli Hayhurst – acoustic & electric bass

Gene Calderazzo – drums

In March 2017 the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra toured the UK with the line up listed above, playing music from the leader’s three part suite “Tales from the Jacquard” in addition to new big band arrangements of existing Siegel compositions, plus an interpretation of the late Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy in D”.

The ensemble was conducted by Nick Smart, head of the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music and an experienced band leader (and accomplished trumpeter) in his own right. With the burden of the conducting duties lifted from his shoulders Siegel was able to focus on his role as a musician and was to feature prominently as a soloist during the course of the performances.

The Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra project began in 2016 when Derby Jazz approached the Nottingham born Siegel to write a commission to celebrate the organisation’s 35th anniversary. The initial idea had been for Siegel to compose a piece for his quartet but Siegel himself wished to write on a larger scale and with the support of Derby Jazz, the Arts Council of England and Anne Rigg of the Right Tempo organisation the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra became a reality.

Derby Jazz had asked Siegel to compose a piece with an East Midlands theme and he elected to write about the lace trade in his home town of Nottingham. Members of the saxophonist’s family have been involved with the industry for over fifty years. Siegel’s late father, Bernard (1919-2006) came to the UK from Poland in 1946 and settled in Nottingham, studying Textiles and Hosiery at Nottingham Technical College and subsequently working at a number of lace companies in the city.

He later started his own business and began designing his own lace patterns which were then transferred onto Jacquard Cards before being sent for manufacture at various factories around the city. Bernard later set up his own factory in the Bulwell area of Nottingham, which he equipped with ‘state of the art’ lace machines to manufacture his designs.

In his album notes Julian recalls childhood visits to his father’s factory and also remembers his parents’ love of music. Bernard had been a professional singer in Poland before the war and was later part of the Polish Parade Touring Theatre, which entertained Allied Troops in the Middle East and Italy. It was through his parents that Julian was first introduced to jazz, through records by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davies, Sarah Vaughan and many others.

It was natural for Julian to to link these themes of lace manufacturing and music making together. He researched the lace making aspect by visiting the still ongoing Cluny Lace factory on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border, learning about the manufacturing process and seeing the various lace making machines at work. He refers to this visit as “composition research”.

The album notes give quite a full account of the lace making process and Julian describes how the rhythms of the machines influenced his writing. At the factory two or three machines might be running concurrently, giving rise to some fascinating examples of rhythmic counterpoint, which Siegel has integrated into his compositions.
“I tried to convey that feeling of motion and movement” he explains.

Siegel also describes how he used the Jacquard cards themselves to create rhythms and melodies, the complexities and subtleties of which rather went over my head to be honest. You’ll just have to buy this magnificent album and read all about it for yourselves. Don’t worry, you don’t need to understand the mechanics to appreciate the music.

I was lucky enough to see this music performed at Birmingham Town Hall and my account of this performance, which I described as “One of THE jazz events of the year” can be viewed here;

At this juncture the Orchestra’s performance at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham had already been recorded by the BBC Radio 3 for transmission on its Jazz Now programme. I remember tuning in for this broadcast and enjoying the music just as much second time around.

At the conclusion of my review of the Birmingham show I made the following suggestion;
“Perhaps Auntie Beeb could be persuaded to release the tapes to Siegel to make a live album if he can’t get the band into a studio. There is a precedent with the Troykestra “Live At Cheltenham Jazz Festival” album after all”. 

Thanks to Whirlwind Recordings here it is at last, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed catching up with this brilliant music once again. This is a project that was simply too important to remain undocumented on disc, and I’d like to kid myself that I actually played some small part in helping to get it out there!

Of course I’ve long been an admirer of Siegel’s playing and composing, whether fronting his own trios and quartets or co-leading the long running jazz rock titans Partisans in partnership with guitarist and composer Phil Robson.  In addition to to these triumphs Siegel is also an in demand sideman, whether as a guest soloist with small groups or as a skilled and versatile section player in larger ensembles, the latter ranging over the years from the BBC Big Band to Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice.

Siegel’s own Jazz Orchestra is an impressive beast, a hand picked eighteen piece band featuring many of Siegel’s long term associates including Partisans drummer Gene Calderazzo plus pianist Liam Noble,  Oli Hayhurst and the ubiquitous Calderazzo from Siegel’s regular quartet.

“I really enjoy writing with particular soloists in mind” explains Siegel, “it’s really exciting to hear them shape the music in their own way. Because of the musicians in the band I know the music will be different each night!”

The album kicks off with the three parts of “Tales from the Jacquard”, over half an hour’s worth of music on a disc lasting for a whole seventy five minutes.

“Part 1” commences with the recorded sounds of lace making machines. I recall these being triggered by Siegel’s on stage laptop. As the factory noises fade away Noble’s unaccompanied piano takes over, introducing a contrasting element of serenity. A kind of ‘chorale’ follows featuring the low register sounds of reeds, brass and bowed bass, the rhythmic and textural elements inspired by the patterns of the Jacquard card from which Siegel was working. Hayhurst and Calderazzo later establish a groove that also seems to borrows from those industrial rhythms and which helps to fuel the virtuoso flugel horn soloing of Claus Stotter, a brilliant musician borrowed from the ranks of  Hamburg’s NDR Big Band, with whom Siegel has also played.

“Part 2” begins with the sound of Noble’s piano arpeggios, again mimicking the rhythms of the lace making machines. These are punctuated by staccato trumpet motifs as the music gradually gathers momentum, leading to expansive solos from Freestone on flute and the leader on soprano saxophone. Noble concludes the movement with another passage of solo piano, which I read as the introduction to “Part 3” at the Birmingham show. A ripple of audience applause retained in the final mix offers evidence that it very much belongs to the second part.

Instead “Part 3” starts off at full tilt with the whole ensemble approximating the sound of the machines and with Harry Brown stepping forward to deliver a rousing trombone solo, this eventually followed by the power and fluency of Stan Sulzmann on tenor sax. The ensemble playing is similarly immense and the music builds to a climax, prompting a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd.
This third part is a seventeen minute epic and at Birmingham I actually though it was three separate movements. Hayhurst’s solo double bass feature acts the introduction to the next section, with the sampled sounds of the lace making machines also being triggered again. This heralds the eventual return of the full Orchestra and the magnificent soloing of trumpet veteran Henry Lowther, Siegel’s fellow East Midlander. “He leapt out of Leicester”, I remember Siegel quipping at Birmingham. Siegel himself then stakes out his turf with a rumbustious tenor solo, this followed by a dynamic drum feature from the ever ebullient Calderazzo. The piece ends with a gentler, more atmospheric passage that recalls the ‘chorale’ section towards the beginning of “Part 1”.

There’s a Mingus like quality to an uproarious piece, new at the time, simply called “Blues”, driven by the rasp of tuba and baritone sax plus Calderazzo’s brutal drumming. Fiery, and fiendishly inventive, solos are delivered by Jason Yarde on soprano sax and Trevor Mires on trombone.

“Song”, also featured on Siegel’s 2018 album “Vista”, represents a total contrast. It is a tender and elegant ballad which, in this sophisticated large ensemble arrangement, includes fluent and lyrical solos from Mark Nightingale on trombone and Percy Pursglove on flugel horn.

“The Missing Link” is a Partisans tune dating all the way back to 2000 and the seminal “Sourpuss” album.  This big band adaptation commences with a sumptuous horn chorale featuring the trumpet and trombone sections, before gathering momentum, propelled by Calderazzo’s drums. Claus Stotter moves to trumpet to deliver a blazing solo and he’s followed by a similarly high octane excursion from Siegel himself on tenor. The performance then climaxes with a volcanic drum feature from Calderazzo.

When it was performed in 2017 I’d assumed that the title of “The Goose” was a reference to Nottingham’s historic Goose Fair. Instead it turns out that it’s the name Phil Robson has bestowed upon Siegel’s bass clarinet! The tune was also recorded on “Vista”, but despite the title the solos here actually come from Stan Sulzmann on tenor sax, Liam Noble on piano, Mike Chillingworth on alto sax and Oli Hayhurst at the bass.

The album closes with Siegel’s arrangement of Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy in D”, a composition he first covered on his superb 2011 album “Urban Theme Park”. Walton’s bebop classic makes an effective big band swinger with dazzling features from Trevor Mires on trombone, the twin tenor exchanges of Siegel and Sulzmann and the effervescent Calderazzo at the drums.

Having witnessed this Rolls Royce of a Jazz Orchestra in concert and later enjoyed their music again on the radio I’m delighted that their playing has finally been documented on disc for listeners to fully appreciate at their leisure.

Siegel’s writing is intelligent and varied and the unusual compositional methods, inspired by the punch cards themselves, deployed in the “Jacquard” suite make for fascinating listening. The other pieces, the majority initially composed for small group settings, take on a new lease of life in the large ensemble format and also work well in this new context.

Self taught as a composer and arranger Siegel had had some previous experience of writing for large ensembles before, including a joint commission with John Warren at Gateshead Jazz Festival in 2012 plus providing arrangements for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and the student band at the Guildhall School of Music. Nevertheless this tour was the first time that he had written and arranged so extensively for a large ensemble.

Needless to say he rose to the challenge brilliantly, masterfully deploying rhythm, colour and texture to create a lustrous ensemble sound, but still with ample scope given for a hand picked bunch of brilliant soloists to express themselves. At times I was reminded of the music of the great composer and large ensemble leader Mike Gibbs, which represents praise indeed.

Like the tour that produced it the release of this album represents a major event in British jazz. Julian Siegel is a huge talent and one of the genuine nice guys of the music. He deserves every success that comes his way and I’m glad that he has finally been able to put this very personal music out there on a commercially available basis. “Tales from the Jacquard” is highly recommended.

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