Some saxophonists take the easy way out and step out with a pot-boiler of a band and serve up a lukewarm jazzy stew that satisfies no-one. But that’s not the case with Julian Siegel. Like a leading Michelin chef, he chooses the finest key ingredients – in this case his current quartet – and lets his imagination run wild and free. The resultant ‘dishes’ are edgy, yes, but also have an air of familiarity about them: quintessentially modern but traceable through the jazz tradition. And just as the tastebuds tingle at the thought of a favourite food, Siegel’s concoctions excite the ear with their oblique references to sounds and styles of jazz’s illustrious past.
Most of the pieces presented tonight came from the quartet’s latest album, ‘Vista’, and are set out in sequence. Therefore we get ‘The Opener’ – an extended theme built from a jagged riff blossoming into organic solos for tenor and piano. Followed by ‘I Want To Go To Brazil’ which, after a teasing tenor and piano intro atop arco bass and rolling tom toms, launches into a high energy samba-come-bossa circling around an insistent bass figure with propellant drums.
The tender tenor theme of ‘Song’ harked back to Dexter Gordon, while Oli Hayhurst’s bass solo was succinct and apposite. ‘Billion Years’ cranked up with another whole band riff – something primal happens when musicians lock into a pattern that combines rhythm and melody in a way that is visceral and exhilarating. Then came the first of two standards – Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Con Alma’ featuring the impeccable pianism of Liam Noble, followed by Cedar Walton’s bright and brisk ‘Fantasy in D’ during which drummer Gene Calderazzo let rip.
All the while, Siegel engaged eyes as well as ears by popping up in different areas of the stage and slinking off it when it was others’ time to shine. And it was clear that the quartet were so well-drilled that they could change tempo or alter the mood at the drop of a hat – or a tilt of Julian’s tenor in this case.
Set two began with ‘The Goose’, an impudent tune delineated by honking horn and a string of caustic solos. Bud Powell’s ‘Un Poco Loco’ saw Siegel take up the bass clarinet, and its rich tones were brilliantly earthy against the busy rhythm section. At times it sounded as if a dijeridoo were droning beneath the effusive piano arpeggios.
‘Pastorale’ derived from a delicious soprano and piano lick, which mellowed into a piano reverie over brooding bass and cymbal splashes. ‘The Claw’ was a weighty offering, given its full heft by Siegel’s full-bodied tenor. It had the rest of the band digging in their heels and stomping through a craggy jazz landscape without flinching.
‘Idea’ and ‘Interlude’ once again featured Julian’s prowess on the low reed. It moved from a tetchy solo into a bustling bass clarinet-led number in the manner of Headhunter’s-era Herbie Hancock. Yet remarkably, by the end it had morphed into a moody, melancholic nocturne, its simple four or five note melody having all the charm of a children’s cradle song.
Just in case we thought we’d been put to bed too soon, the foursome returned with a rousing encore, ‘Room 518’. Proof, if proof were needed, that Julian Siegel and his quartet have the recipe for a menu that endures.
©2018 Julia Price