Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra: Tales From The Jacquard

Chris May BY

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Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra: Tales From The Jacquard
Reed player Julian Siegel has been an important part of the London jazz scene since the late 1990s, when he cofounded Partisans, a high-energy quartet completed by guitarist Phil Robson, bassist Thad Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo. The band is pretty much beyond category, although it is usually billed as jazz-rock. Unlike normative jazz-rock outfits, however, Partisans is anchored firmly in the acoustic tradition, Robson's plugged-in guitar aside. Also contrary to the jazz-rock norm, Partisans, as its name suggests, has a lightly worn sociopolitical consciousness—its 2005 album, Max (Babel), was dedicated to the bebop pioneer, drummer Max Roach, who the sleeve dedication acknowledged as "a key figure in the American Civil Rights Movement." Further singularity is provided by bassist Kelly, who is light years away from the American stereotype of a brash Jaco Pastorius wannabe more concerned with technique than with authenticity.

As a stylist, Siegel himself is as hard to classify as is Partisans or his Quartet with pianist Liam Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and Calderazzo, who are also the rhythm section on Tales From The Jacquard. A virtuosic tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist who always plays from the heart, and a gifted composer, Siegel is best described as a radical classicist. He is also a musician's musician. Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, the Brooklyn-based sonic explorer and regular collaborator with Anthony Braxton, has said she learnt much from him in the early 2000s when she was living in London. But somehow, despite winning a clutch of specialist awards, Siegel's work has not received the wider exposure it deserves.

A big-band outing, Tales From The Jacquard is a work of substance and originality which Siegel enthusiasts will cherish. A double album, it was recorded live by the eighteen-piece Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2017. The lineup includes established stars such as tenor player Stan Sulzmann, alto player Jason Yarde and trumpeter Henry Lowther, and the then up and coming tenor player and flautist Tori Freestone. The conductor is Nick Smart, better known as a trumpeter.

The album's title track is a three-piece suite which takes its name from the Jacquard punched cards that were used to program weavers' looms in the pre-digital age. (Check the YouTube clip below). Siegel was born in the city of Nottingham, the historic centre of Britain's lace-making industry, where his family owned a lace-making business. He vividly remembers the urgent clatter of the lace-makers' looms from childhood trips to the factory, and used a field recording of them in "The Lacemakers," a track on the aforementioned Partisans' album Max. He does so again on "Tales From The Jacquard." For much of its thirty-minute running time, the suite is busy, intense and fast-moving, just like the looms, with occasional respite (lace-makers' tea breaks?) offered by solos from pianist Liam Noble and Tori Freestone on flute. It is a wonderfully evocative piece which sounds at times like a cranked-up spin on Terry Riley's minimalist masterpiece "In C," though there is nothing minimalist about Siegel's rich and exuberant arranging.

A similarly expansive vibe colours much of the rest of the album. Standout tracks include "Blues," which puts aside Riley for a cross between Oliver Nelson and Quincy Jones circa his 1967 score for In The Heat Of The Night. The track has stirring solos from Jason Yarde on alto and Trevor Mires on trombone. Delightful, too, is the cover of Cedar Walton's "Fantasy In D," which closes the performance and which Siegel's Quartet included on the award winning Urban Theme Park (Basho, 2011).

Track Listing

Tales from the Jacquard Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Blues; Song; The Missing Link; The Goose; Fantasy In D.


Julian Siegel: saxophone, tenor; Tom Walsh: trumpet; Percy Pursglove: trumpet; Henry Lowther: trumpet; Claus Stotter: trumpet; Mark Nightingale: trombone; Trevor Mires: trombone; Harry Brown: trombone; Richard Henry: tuba; Mike Chillingworth: saxophone, alto; Jason Yarde: saxophone, alto; Stan Sulzmann: saxophone, tenor; Tori Freestone: saxophone, tenor; Gemma Moore: saxophone, baritone; Mike Outram: guitar, electric; Liam Noble: piano; Oli Hayhurst: bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Julian Siegel: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Tom Walsh: trumpet; Percy Pursglove: trumpet; Henry Lowther: trumpet; Claus Stötter: trumpet; Mark Nightingale: trombone; Trevor Mires: trombone; Harry Brown: trombone; Richard Henry: bass trombone, tuba; Mike Chillingworth: alto saxophone; Jason Yarde: alto and soprano saxophones; Stan Sulzmann: tenor saxophone; Tori Freestone: tenor saxophone, flute; Gemma Moore: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Mike Outram: guitar; Liam Noble: piano; Oli Hayhurst: double bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums; Nick Smart: conductor.

Album information

Title: Tales from the Jacquard | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings

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