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Hugo Siegmeth: Red Onions: Celebrating Sidney Bechet

Chris May By

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Against the odds, this is an audacious and mesmerising album—the second tribute album in as many weeks, after Pat Martino's Remember: A Tribute To Wes Montgomery, to confound expectations.

Hugo Siegmeth is a 36 year-old German reed player whose style owes nothing to the great soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet (1897-1959). His astringent and quirky lyricism has instead developed out of Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson. These musicians, along with younger, freer players, provide the prism through which Siegmeth revisits Bechet's music on Red Onions.

Just to make sure there's no misunderstanding, and the better to avoid pastiche, even at this distance, Siegmeth entirely avoids the soprano saxophone, the instrument most closely associated with Bechet, in favour of the tenor and the clarinet. The album doesn't sound quite as radical as David S. Ware Celebrates Jelly Roll Morton probably would, but topsy-turvy anachronism permeates the music, which is deliciously out of its tree from start to finish.

It's a winning approach, magical realist rather than revivalist, which reaches its peaks on four tunes featuring Siegmeth's arrangements for Jorg Widmoser's Modern String Quartet, and another four featuring guitarist/banjoist Geoff Goodman. On Bechet's signature original "Petite Fleur," the melodramatic, chugging strings sound like an accordion on some deranged tango record from the 1920s, while on Gershwin's "Summertime" they're arranged in what can only be a conscious homage to Lee Perry and "Dreadlocks In Moonlight."

On banjo, Goodman similarly rejects convention to find his own strange territory. On the traditional "When You And I Were Young, Maggie" he sounds like Earl Scruggs picking his way through an eventful acid trip, and on "St James Infirmary Blues" like a Zen-savvy koto player. Four Bechet originals are included, along with another eight standards associated with him, not one of them played entirely straight. On "Maple Leaf Rag," for instance, Siegmeth stays close to Scott Joplin's original top line, but moves the metre between 7/4 and 4/4, creating a taut, powerful forward drive. Bechet's "Blue Horizon" is subtly funktified, with Goodman on electric guitar.

It's an interesting ride, packed with incident and surprise, and Siegmeth is brilliantly supported by a trio of like-minded and sinewy modernists—Carsten Daerr (piano), Henning Sieverts (bass and cello) and Bastian Jutte (drums). Red Onions is a Siegmeth album more than a Bechet one, with the added bonus of new spins on some of the most attractive tunes in the classic jazz repertoire. A one-off time-warp hoedown.


Track Listing: Chant In The Night; Indian Summer; September Song; When You And I Were Young, Maggie; Les Oignons; Petite Fleur; Blue Horizon; Juan-Les-Pins; Maple Leaf Rag; Treat It Gentle; The Mooche; St James Infirmary Blues; Summertime; Maggie Veranda; Chant In The Night (alternate version).

Personnel: Hugo Siegmeth: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Carsten Daerr: piano; Hemming Sieverts: bass and cello; Bastian Jutte: drums; Geoff Goodman: guitar and banjo (3,4,7,12,14). String section (2,6,11,13): Jorg Widmoser: violin; Winfried Zrenner: violin; Andreas Horicht: viola; Jost-H. Hecker: cello.

Title: Red Onions: Celebrating Sidney Bechet | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: ACT Music


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