JEFF "SIEGE" SIEGEL QUARTET
Live in Europe (ARC, 2008)
by J Hunter
In the liner notes to Live in Europe, Jeff "Siege" Siegel basically says that Europe has been very, very good to him. Not surprising, since the region has always given Capital Region jazzers big love from the prime of Nick Brignola, right up to the extensive airplay given to Colleen Pratt's big-band homage I Thought About You (Nova, 2007). On Live in Europe, the Siegel Quartet returns Europe's love in spades.
The set is culled from two 2005 radio concerts one at Munich's renowned Jazzclub Unterfahrt, the other at Radio Bremen's own concert hall. Although Siegel had released Magical Spaces (CAP) earlier that year, and was touring with the same unit that played on the disc, none of Spaces' excellent material appears on this new release. While we don't get to hear Siege and his partners expand on Space, the music that did make the cut is simply phenomenal.
With the opener "Elvin's Circle", we get to see the Siegel Quartet's sense of history right off the bat. Erica Lindsey's ode to John Coltrane's best-known drummer rolls out with the same majesty found in Trane tracks like "Spiritual" and "Acknowledgement." The difference lies with Lindsay: Instead of the almost-Eastern soprano sax Coltrane used to bewitch us all, we get Lindsay's broad, irresistible tenor flowing out of the speakers like the surf at Big Sur. Francesca Tanksley's percussive piano complements Lindsay's soaring lines perfectly while Danton Boller nails the foundation and Siegel embroiders around it all, reminding us of the exemplary contributions Elvin made to anything he did with Trane.
While Trane is definitely somewhere inside Lindsay's musical bag, the soulfulness of her sound evokes the other member of Miles' most celebrated front line that being Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. The passion Lindsay brings to the mid-set ballad "Shifting Sands" can weaken the knees, and she smokes like a steamboat on "Remembering Shirley", Siegel's blues-soaked tribute to Shirley Horn. It should always be said that Horn was as enticing a pianist as she was a singer, and that's where Tanksley comes in. Her lies on "Remembering" are so deep blue, they're purple! There's a wonderful lyricism to Tanksley's solos, and her left-hand comps really accentuates her often-volcanic right hand. But whether it's a ballad, a blues, or a swirling bounce like "Stealth", there's a fire inside Tanksley's piano that occasionally dims, but never dies.
That Lindsay and Tanksley work from a common language is to be expected: Between this group and Lindsay's own quartet, they've been playing together for most of this decade. Not only are they resoundingly accomplished at their respective instruments, but they're also prolific composers who bring some serious flavor to Siegel's already-savory songbook. Tanksley's up-tempo "Dance in the Quiestion" is an excellent palate-cleanser after the labyrinth of Siegel's "Rag Tag", an awesome double-duet that successfully shakes up the band's matrix even as it risks losing the audience in the piece's complexity. If you stick with "Rag Tag", though, it's worth it: The nuance in Lindsay & Boller's dialogue is exceptional, and Siegel & Tanksley take their call-and-answer from starkly meditative to wildly explosive.
Although his work with the Lee Shaw Trio has been excellent, Siegel really gets his ya-ya's out with his own band. His compositions show a diversity of influences and inspirations keeping himself and his band from being pigeonholed and his skill at building crackling solos without taking steam out of the overall piece is what gets me the most. He also gives ample room for his bandmates to stretch in the spotlight, which credits Siege with a great deal of trust. Boller's steady foundation allows Siegel the freedom to embellish the music; however, Boller has a fine creative voice of his own, as we hear during his evocative solos on "Remembering" and "Elvin's Circle."
Live in Europe is a clear snapshot of a unit living serenely in the moment, even when the music they play is anything but serene. But while we're lucky to have this release, Europe is luckier: The Siegel Quartet went back to Europe at the beginning of June, packing three years of new experiences on top of their already-solid résumé. Let's hope that when Siege counted the band in, some nice radio engineer was rolling tape.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.