Karl E. H. Seigfried: Portrait Of Jack Johnson

Dan Bilawsky By

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Karl E.H. Seigfried

Portrait Of Jack Johnson

Imaginary Chicago Records


Boxing and jazz don't seem like a natural fit, but the two disciplines share ideals at their cores. Both thrive on the unexpected and live as poetry in motion. Jazz musicians and boxers both work hard and long, spending hours and hours honing their skills so that they can be used in a spontaneous fashion when they are thrown into action, and both value individual form, grace and power as part of individual expression. In a nutshell, jazz and boxing are closer than most people think. Trumpeter Miles Davis spent plenty of time working out in the ring and, likewise, some notable boxers have enjoyed musical pursuits.

Bassist Karl E. H. Seigfried pays tribute to three such boxers on Portrait Of Jack Johnson. "The Boxing Bassist Suite," featuring musical tributes to Johnson, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles, along with eight music-related tribute tracks—under the banner of "Portraits In Jazz"—give Seigfried a chance to show off a wide-range of music performed by his pliant trio. Seigfried has been a steady presence on the Chicago music scene, working in classical settings, avant-garde groupings and rock-leaning projects, and these experiences all play a part in this group's unique sound.

Seigfried is joined by alto saxophonist Greg Howard and drummer Frank Rosaly who seem to be highly attuned to Seigfried's rhythmically evolving compositions. Ward's sound is inherently soulful, regardless of the setting, and this is immediately recognizable on "Portrait Of Jack Johnson." The song begins with an offbeat hand clap/hi-hat pattern built into the music—in a pianist Dave Brubeck-meets-modern jazz kind of way—but Ward takes over when the music moves to a more streamlined swing feel. Rosaly's tom-dominated solo here has a Max Roach sound to it and his playing has a natural snap in it, adding sparks to the overall sound of the piece. "The Old Mongoose"—which was also Archie Moore's nickname—features some thumping bass and New Orleans-inspired drumming at the top. All three men are jubilant and bouncy in their deliveries and Ward spits out some explosively fast, darting lines. "Ezzard," the final piece in the suite, isn't as naturally tuneful as its predecessors, but it still manages to hold interest with its shifting feels.

Seigfried's "Portraits In Jazz" pay tribute to Chicago institutions such as the late saxophonist Fred Anderson ("Mr. Anderson") and his club ("The Velvet Lounge"), along with music mavericks ("Roswell Rudd") and jazz giants like soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet ("Treat It Gentle"). Seigfried paid respects to Malachi Favors—legendary bassist with The Art Ensemble of Chicago—with an entire suite on Criminal Mastermind (Imaginary Chicago Records, 2006), and his fondness for the bassist has resulted in another nod here, in the form of "Up From Mississippi." The trio gets deep into the blues on this track, one of the most satisfying pieces on the album.

In addition to bass, Seigfried overdubs some guitar work on "Spheroid," his decidedly non-Monk-ish tribute to pianist Thelonious Monk. Guitar and saxophone work through the head of the piece—with insistent bass lines and some second line-like drumming beneath—before the rhythm shifts to a rock feel and then a swing section. Seigfried's bass solo is captivating and he demonstrates his more-than-capable skills on guitar with this one. "Accessibility," dedicated to Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham, is the epitome of cool. Ward's woozy, sleepy lines saunter around Seigfried's hip bass work and Rosaly knows to keep it simple, with minimal percussive fuss here. "Rosminah"—Seigfried's tribute to pianist Mary Lou Williams— is in complete contrast with the previous track and proves to be another album highlight. Ward delivers some wonderfully frenzied saxophone playing and Rosaly spurs him on as both men keep pushing and driving, leaving Seigfried to hold it all together.

With Portrait Of Jack Johnson, Karl E. H. Seigfried has managed to pay tribute to some key figures in boxing and music, while creating some songs that can be appreciated by a wide range of jazz fans, regardless of the extent of their pugilistic knowledge.

Tracks: Portrait of Jack Johnson; The Old Mongoose; Ezzard; Up From Mississippi; Revolver; Speroid; Accessibility; Rosminah; Mr. Anderson; Roswell; Treat It Gentle.

Personnel: Karl E. H. Seigfried: bass, guitar; Greg Ward: alto saxophone; Frank Rosaly: drums.

Year Released: 2010 | Style: Modern Jazz

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