JEFF "SIEGE" SIEGEL QUARTET
May 30, 2008
By J Hunter
One of the keys to achieving serenity is accepting that some things will always be out of your control. For instance, a lost set of car keys delayed half of the Jeff Siegel Quartet to just before the show's scheduled start time. As a result, the music got underway about a half-hour late, which Siegel took it in stride, although the new development had me looking at my watch.
Not that I wanted to get out of there far from it; I'd wanted to see this band ever since I heard them on Siegel's last disc, Magical Spaces (CAP, 2005), and I'd heard great things about the group's new release Live in Europe (ARC). However, thanks to the Freihofer's Run for Women, every lamp post in the Lark Street/Washington Park area was plastered with official, intimidating signs that made it very clear that any cars parked on or near the race route would be towed beginning at 12:01am. I can't have been the only one in Justin's intimate dining room/concert space that was thinking that walking home was not an attractive option.
Again, this was something that was out of Siege's control, and if he was sweating it, it never showed. Given the circumstances of the gig, he already had plenty on his plate: Aside from this being the first of two CD-release parties for Europe, these shows were live-fire rehearsals for a European tour that would take the band to Germany, Austria, Italy, and the world's smallest tax haven, Liechtenstein. (Fun Fact: If the entire population of Liechtenstein each bought a ticket to a game at Giants Stadium, there'd still be over 40,000 seats left unsold.)
With all the distractions, a lot of leaders would have called out something familiar to ease his players into the show. Instead, Siegel called out "Mari", an Erica Lindsay composition that was "new to the band." Far from balking at the curveball, the band launched into the piece's easy, comfortable groove, with Lindsay leading the charge on a meaty tenor sax solo while Francesca Tanksley expertly comped behind her; Siege filled the spaces with a near-countersolo while Otto Gardner did what he does best hold down the bottom like a guard dog holds down a burglar.
It shouldn't be shocking that these players instantly meshed, even though this was the first time in some time that they'd played together. The band has been together almost five years, and this is the same group (minus Siegel) that appeared on Lindsay's smoking live disc Yes (ARC, 2001). And while Gardner doesn't appear on either Magical Spaces or Live in Europe, he and Siege have been playing together, on and off, for almost thirty years. So while the evening may have come together in a frenetic manner, the fact that this group played with one mind and one thought is remarkable, but it isn't surprising.
After "Mari", the set concentrated on pieces from Live in Europe: Siegel's "Remembering Shirley" (written for the late Shirley Horn) was a slow, smoky torch song that let Lindsay channel her Inner Cannonball Adderley and Tanksley play Old School blues that would have made Ramsey Lewis nod with approval; "Stealth" had nothing stealthy about it, unless you count Gardner's creeping, deep-dish opening figure; "Rag Tag" which originally appeared on Dreamstuff (Ayler, 2007), Siege's duet record with Jeff Marx was a real gamble in a club venue, given the piece's free-form approach and inherent subtlety. (Siege's own solo was nearly drowned out by someone grinding pepper on his Beef Wellington.) The crowd's howls of approval showed the gamble more than paid off. The one non-Europe piece was Tanksley's "Dear Earth", another tune that (in Siegel's words) was "new to the band, but is one of Francesca's greatest hits!" And great it was, with Lindsay playing fluffy, nuanced tenor while Tanksley's wonderfully expressive piano showed the title was the salutation on a love letter.
Missing the second set really made me grind my teeth, and not just because Siegel told the crowd, "We're working on some new songs as well as remembering some old ones." The Jeff "Siege" Siegel Quartet has a stunning overall attack that can only be called "Lyrical Aggression", and walking away when there's more to come from a unit as electric as this is not an easy decision. Let's hope Europe gives them back to us after the tour, because this is a group that needs to be experienced at length preferably when your car is not in danger of being impounded.
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.