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Julian Siegel Quartet At Magy's Farm

This was the sort of gig that renews the faith of the most jaded jazz buff, and that makes instant converts of newcomers.
Julian Siegel Quartet
Magy's Farm
Dromara, N. Ireland
April 27, 2024

Johannes Weege, co-founder of German jazz club Doubletime had traveled all the way from Hamelin. Apart from Double Time, the medieval town is famed for the story of the Pied Piper, who lured the town's children away with his hypnotic music, after the elders had failed to pay him for ridding Hamelin of its rat population. The "piper" this Saturday evening was Julian Siegel, luring neither rats nor children, but jazz aficionados to Dromara's own famed jazz venue, Magy's Farm.

Siegel has been a mainstay of the UK jazz scene since the mid-1980s. Even a partial résumé of the heavy hitters who have come calling on the reeds player's services attests to that; Seigel's credits include Kenny Wheeler, Hermeto Pascoal, Michael Gibbs, Django Bates, John Taylor and John McLaughlin, recording with the latter on the guitarist's Liberation Time (Abstract Logix, 2021).

But it is Siegel's own groups that best highlight not just his playing but his notable songwriting chops as well. The jazz-rock band Partisans has been on the go since 1996. The Julian Siegel Quartet, featuring drummer Gene Calderazzo, bassist Oli Hayhurst and pianist Liam Noble is well into its second decade. Magy's Farm was the first stop-off of an Irish and UK tour for the award-winning quartet.

The guts of the straight-through set came from Vista (Whirlwind Recordings, 2018). The concert got off to a high-energy start with "Intro Music," a rhythmically urgent piece of tight-knit group dynamics propelled by Siegel's riffing bass clarinet. Without pause, the music segued into "I Want To Go To Brazil." On tenor saxophone, over Calderazzo's pulsating rhythmic tattoo and Hayhurst's bass mantra, Siegel carved a serpentine path of melodious adventure. Picking up the baton, Noble kept the flames high, working the upright piano's mid-range with a feverish intensity matched by Calderazzo, who moved from mallets to brushes and finally sticks as the music climbed. It was thrilling stuff.

The quartet treaded softly on "Song," a refined ballad that Siegel has also given the big-band treatment to on Tales From The Jacquard (Whirlwind Recordings, 2021) with the 18-piece Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra. Hayhurst delivered an arresting solo of earthy lyricism, generating loud applause before Siegel slipped back in with purring legato lines.

Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco" got the quartet's collective juices flowing once again, Siegel's tenor-led, Latin-tinged refrain making way for a splashy, burrowing solo from Noble—riding a pulsating rhythmic current—that earned cheers from the crowd.

New song "Second String," a John Coltrane-esque burner, featured Siegel at his most expansive, his flickering fires fueled by Calderazzo's industry. One by one, saxophone, drums and piano dropped out, leaving Hayhurst in the solo spotlight where he fashioned a mazy, entrancing bass soliloquy. The quartet reunited briefly in a lyrical coda that faded into silence.

"The Goose" proved that these gentlemen can also whip up a wicked jazz-funk groove, Siegel leading the way with another strikingly inventive solo that married melodious arc and biting edge. Another new composition "Snooker Gods"—nicely timed given that the 2024 World Snooker Championship was entering the business end--- bristled with collective energy; Sigel and Noble in turn offered fesity improvisations, the pianist channeling his inner Chucho Valdes with a touch of Latin panache. Siegel's repeating motif, mantra-like in its insistence, spurred Calderazzo on in a blistering finale.

It was all over in the blink of an eye. For the final number Siegel turned to bass clarinet on Wayne Shorter's well-travelled "Footprints." Calderazzo's pulsating brush patterns and Hayhurst's steady rhythmic pulse underpinned searching improvisations from Noble and Siegel, the leader seducing with a wonderful display of controlled freedom.

The Julian Siegel Quartet's performance was a reminder of just how persuasive jazz can be when steered by deep reserves of musical intuition and personal empathy. This was the sort of gig that renews the faith of the most jaded jazz buff, and that makes instant converts of newcomers.

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