Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Julian Siegel: Urban Theme Park

Julian Siegel (sax, clarinet)
Urban Theme Park (Basho Records; 2011)
Liam Noble (piano)
Gene Calderazzo (drums)
Oli Hayhurst (bass)

I really hadn't listened to much of Julian Siegel's music. I had always known about his highly influential band, The Partisans, but was always unable to find the albums here in the states. His latest release Urban Theme Park (Basho), from the unfortunately infrequent but extremely rewarding quartet with his name, Siegel has created a commanding work well deserving of wider attention (especially Stateside).

The group consisting of all dominant and very notable leaders, runs like a well oiled machine. Noble, known more for his work in avant garde circles (as well as his own quartet) with recordings featuring Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey, delivers some powerful statements on the keys. Calderazzo, a veteran of both U.S. and British scenes, has played alongside some of best of the modern and contemporary era--from Phil Woods to The Partisans. His drums propel and at times gently guide the group on wonderfully melodic passages. And finally, Oli Hayhurst, delivers dense and emphatic performances that have monumental effects on the groove throughout this session. His work with Gwilym Simcock, John McHenry as well as Tom Rainey, allows him to move between contemporary and improvised worlds.

"One For J.T." (for British pianist, John Taylor) and "Heart Song" show off two different and distinct sides of the quartet. "One For J.T." is a hard driving boppish number that sees the group performing on all cylinders. Siegel's playing blasts upwards but is equalled by each member. There is a clear sense that while the name on the CD says Siegel, the group is defiantly a group. The exchanges and cascading notes that Siegel has with each member on this piece are clear and individualistic.

"Heart Song" is more intimate. A piece that revolves around some excellent and touching work from Siegel on clarinet. Noble's playing adds colour and shape to Siegel's free flowing notes. Calderazzo and Hayhurst are slightly reserved in the mix but their tone is felt at key moments in the piece--especially a small effective exchange towards the closing notes from Siegel.

"Interlude" sees Siegel switching to bass clarinet for some interesting results. The opening chords alone should make you stand up and take notice. Not in the same free jazz realm as the recently discussed Jason Stein release, but Siegel's display here suggests that he has more hiding up his sleeve that will be revealed as the records continue to flow.  This is a vibrant piece that may be classical in theory but is free spirited in performance and energy. 

"Drone Job" might be the one piece that throws you for a loop. The quartet turn slightly Headhunter-esque but somehow they pulls this off. It's bold and refreshing to hear, even as a closing number. Featuring frantic notes that move sideways and upwards but still level inside the group's unison dynamics--this is an unexpected fusion treat.

While not knowing much about Siegel's previous efforts and going on the strength of this project alone I feel I have unfairly shut myself out from one of the best un-kept secrets in British jazz. Urban Theme Park is one of the best and exciting British records of the year. And now I have a lot of new records to buy in the next few months. Thanks Mr. Siegel...

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