Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet ‘London Live’ CD/DIG (ARC) 4/5

Here’s a powerhouse of a quartet to be sure. Siegel leads from the drums with Erica Lindsay on tenor saxophone, Francesca Tanksley at the piano and Uli Langthaler on bass.
This is the groups fourth album and their second live offering. Recorded at London’s famed Pizza Express Jazz Club on the closing night of their fourth European tour back in 2010, the repertoire consists of six original compositions from within the band together with John Coltrane’s ‘Peace on Earth’ and a spiritual ‘I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.’

The band were afforded the luxury of having spent two weeks working together on tour before having the opportunity to lay down their music for posterity. This clearly shows in the tightness with which they play. Siegel is a veteran of the New York jazz scene with a career dating back to the early 1980s. Over the years he has performed and/or recorded with Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Sheila Jordan and Helen Merrill and the shadow of Coltrane towers over the quartet and it’s interesting to hear the saxophonist debt to the great man, even vividly capturing his spiritualism in her own playing. In fact, it would be all too easy to align this quartet’s music with that of the classic Coltrane quartet of Tyner, Garrison and Elvin Jones, but to do so would be missing the point. Coltrane is merely point of departure for this contemporary quartet.

As this is the drummer’s band I guess he can be allowed the indulgence of a drum solo to open the first track ‘Meet me at the Station’. Frequent tempo changes and a powerful saxophone feature make this a compelling opener. The aforementioned ‘Peace on Earth’ is a lesser-known Coltrane theme coming from the saxophonist’s 1966 period. There is a further nod to Coltrane on ‘Crescent Sound’, written by the drummer and inspired by the drumming of Elvin Jones on Coltrane’s ‘Crescent’. Following the drum feature the intensity builds further with contributions from saxophone and piano. ‘M Song’ brings a change of feeling with the trio alone showing their more introspective side and what a lovely feature for Tanksley bringing to mind the late, great John Taylor at times. By now you probably won’t find it too difficult to ascertain the inspiration for ‘Art’s Message’, a nod to Mr Blakey and his esteemed Jazz Messengers.

This is a set of exciting, powerful and intense music, infused by the spirit of Coltrane but not a slave to it. Each of the musicians have their own individual voices. In particular, the saxophonist has a wonderfully full and centred tone and I particularly enjoy that wide vibrato, reminiscent of Dexter Gordon at times. There is a feeling of controlled intensity throughout the album and this is true even in the less frenetic tunes. This is an album that will repay repeated listening to uncover the hidden jewels just below the surface.

Alan Musson