Drummer Jeff "Siege Siegel hails from upstate New York and boasts a number of top-tier sideman credits, including a five-year stint in Roland Hanna's trio. His debut as a leader, Magical Spaces (coproduced by Baikida Carroll), is an all-original quartet affair with Erica Lindsay on tenor, Francesca Tanksley on piano and Danton Boller on bass. These are seasoned, effective players, well-equipped for Siegel's venturesome but fairly straight-ahead material.
They start with the upbeat harmonies and charging hard bop tempo of "Graz Is Greener on the Other Side," establishing their solid time feel and improvisational facility within moments. Lindsay's tone is raw and forceful in the Trane/Pharoah mold, but her subtlety and versatility come through on the beautiful ballad "M Song. Tanksley, a whiz with Tyneresque linear and intervallic ideas, has a strong and elegant touch that serves the music wellfrom the lilting waltz "A Flower for Diane to modal gatecrashers like "Threads and the title track.
Boller's bass and Siegel's drums are well-recorded and conceptually in sync; their solos are probing and free-spirited. Fittingly for a drummer's record, Siegel reserves space for himself, preceding "Threads with a solo "Opening Statement," joining Boller in a percussion duet called "Twilight and closing the date with an unaccompanied "Postcard to Arthur Rhames." Tim Strong's guest vocal on "Peaceful is another effective twist. His rich baritone falls somewhere between Billy Eckstine and Lou Rawls.
Siegel's quartet had its New York debut at the Baha'i Center on February 7, with the formidable Drew Gress standing in for Danton Boller (who is currently busy with Bennie Wallace). Tanksley was saddled with a Technics electric piano that contributed to an awkward mix and didn't do her justice. But the band rose above and delivered, opening with "Elvin's Circle," a mid-tempo minor-key vehicle penned by Lindsay.
The saxophonist also took on Tim Strong's role in an instrumental version of "Peaceful and brought lyrical nuance to "M Song." Tanksley's "Dance in the Question," with its recurring shifts from 4/4 to waltz time, posed a challenge that each soloistnot least Tanksley herselfhandled with relish. The closing "Threads," a burner in the mold of The Real McCoy, had Siegel and Gress fighting one another a bit, still finding their way as a rhythm section but giving their all.
Graz is Greener on the Other Side; Blue Heart; A Flower for Diane; Opening Statement; Threads; M Song; Peaceful; Magical Spaces; Mourning for Kevin O'Conner; Twilight; Africa; Lenny; Sir Roland; Postcard to Arthur Rhames.
Jeff Siegel: drums; Danton Boller: bass; Francesca Tanksley: piano; Erica Lindsay: tenor
saxophone; Tim Strong: vocals.