Concert review: Julian Siegel Trio

Julian Siegel Trio
CBSO Centre

A certain feeling of déjà vu would have been correct. It was January, the CBSO Centre, the same players and the same opening tune: Siegel’s composition A Night At The Opera. Had we jumped back two years? Quite a bit of the material was repeated from the ’07 gig: Atlantic, Stop Go Man, Alfie, Haunted Waltz, Sandpit.

It didn’t matter, of course – the tunes and arrangements might have been familiar, but jazz is forever fresh, especially when three such creative spirits as Siegel (saxophone, clarinets), Joey Baron (drums) and Greg Cohen (double bass) are at work. The change was one of development and maturity, a sense that now these three knew each other even better, that what had started out as a festival commission and a transatlantic project had grown into a deeper musical friendship.

The acme came immediately after interval. In Seven Days, one of several new pieces, Siegel took a cryptic and persistent motif of four or five notes, repeating and reworking it both in order and timing. His solos shared the motif’s urgent material and pulled and pushed it about, while Baron and Cohen fired away underneath him. The result swept the listener along in high excitement, as if caught in a raging river.

Siegel just gets better and better, his tone rich and burnished, and heard to great effect in this unamplified way. He doesn’t write simple “head and solos” pieces but incorporates the improvisations more organically, returning regularly to the theme. He also manages to indulge himself and the band in some personal and quirky harmonic twists and turns while still incorporating enough melodic content to ensure his listeners have a strap to hang on to. And all that goes for his improvisations as well as his compositions.

Baron is simply my favourite drummer – enthralling, whether supporting, leading or responding in the group, or in his own intensely musical solos. Cohen’s mastery is less obvious, and at the start he suffered from being too quiet, but his tuneful solos, incorporating rich chords into the logical lines, and his effortlessly spot-on timing are equally rewarding.

The other new tunes, one untitled, were all strong, with Baron and Cohen having particular fun showing how seemingly conventional swing drums and walking bass can still sound fresh and new on Trent Lock.

The inclusion of another standard – the perenially wonderful Moonlight in Vermont – was one more treat in a whole evening of them. And isn’t it great to hear a band playing without amplification? It reminds us that when we have to lean forward and concentrate hard to catch every nuance, every subtle shift of tone and beat, that we get so much more out of the experience because we have put so much more into it. For me, contemporary jazz doesn’t get any better than this.

Categories: Live review

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