Julian Siegel Quartet: Urban Theme Park (2011)
The Julian Siegel Quartet epitomizes some of the finest elements of jazz: creativity, virtuosity, collaboration, invention and (the often neglected) fun. As a result, Urban Theme Park, the band's second album, is a positive feast of music. Broadly speaking, this is probably best described as post-bop, but no single definition can encapsulate the breadth of vision Siegel and his fellow players bring to this collectionit's music, let's leave it at that.
Reeds player Siegel has been part of British jazz for over 20 years, working with a diverse range of musicians including Joey Baron and Greg Cohen as the Julian Siegel Trio, Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, and pianist Andrew Hill. Liam Noble, a friend of Siegel's for two decades, is the quartet's keyboardist, a considered and inventive musician.
The group's debut, Close Up (Sound Recordings), appeared in 2002. Nine years between albums might suggest a somewhat relaxed work rate, but Siegel is a sought-after player, and has happily filled his time with projects including his trio and Partisans, an innovative and influential quartet featuring guitarist Phil Robson. Close Up featured bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Gary Husband. Urban Theme Park sees these two players replaced by Oli Hayhurst and Gene Calderazzo (a fellow-Partisan), respectively, two fascinating and unpredictable players with real energy and commitment.
Hayhurst gets some great opportunities to solo, grabs them with both hands and lays a clear claim to being one of the finest bassists on the UK scene. His deep, muscular, playing on "Game Of Cards," a suite in three parts inspired by Igor Stravinsky's ballet Jeu De Cartes, creates a stunning central theme.
Cedar Walton's "Fantasy In D" jumps out of the speakers, an up-tempo, sparky slice of hard bop driven by Calderazzo's strong but fluid percussion. Siegel's own compositions range from the rolling rhythm of "Six Four" to the insistent and cheerful "One For J. T"dedicated to another piano master, John Taylor and the almost hip-hop groove of "Keys To The City." He can also take things in a more experimental, electronic, direction: thoughtfully and romantically on "Lifeline," or in a freer, freakier, way on the charmingly-titled "Drone Job," both of which give Noble the chance to build up some intriguing layers of sound on electric keyboards.
Urban Theme Park has style. Siegel and his fellow musicians may not be short of other projects, but this one deserves some serious commitment, because there is plenty here to suggest that the quartet could become a real driving force in contemporary music. Roll on album threeit should be here by 2020.
Track Listing: Six Four; One For J. T.; Heart Song; Keys To The City; Game Of Cards; Lifeline; Interlude; Fantasy In D; Drone Job.
Personnel: Julian Siegel: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Liam Noble: piano, keyboards; Oli Hayhurst: double bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums.