Best known for his high-energy quartet Partisans, alongside Phil Robson, Thad Kelly and Gene Calderazzo, it’s great to hear saxophonist/composer Julian Siegel venturing out into the big-band arena with his excellent new release “Tales from the Jacquard”. One thing that’s constant with Siegel’s music, is that it’s always firmly anchored in the acoustic tradition, and this foray into the world of the big-band pleasingly follows suit. There’s a genuine authenticity that runs through much of the saxophonist’s musical output, and this new album continues that deeply respected heritage.
Recorded live for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2017, the 18-piece line-up includes a whole host of established players, including Stan Sulzmann, Jason Yarde, Henry Lowther, Liam Noble, Gene Calderazzo, Oli Hayhurst and Mark Nightingale, to name but a few. Originally commissioned by Derby Jazz, and recorded at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham, there’s particular relevance to the area, with the album title and inspiration coming from Siegel’s parents who owned a lace-making factory in the East Midlands. “I have clear memories of trips to the lace factory with my dad in the 70s,” Siegel explains, “And hearing the sound of the machines – he wanted to conduct them! My dad always had a great love for music and after work at home in Nottingham, Ellington, Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Lockjaw Davis, Paul Gonsalves and Ben Webster would be on the turntable as well as a lot of classical music. It seemed like a natural thing to try and explore the lace-making process and use this research to inspire new music.”
The lace-making process and the Jacquard cards, which controlled the lace knitting machines, act as the introduction to the three-part central piece of the album, “Tales from the Jacquard, Parts 1 to 3.” The heart-beat of the machinery opens the proceedings, before Liam Nobel’s gentle yet focussed piano leads the listener into an ever-changing, expansive musical journey fuelled by intrepid melodies and charismatic playing. Rhythmic, stylish and exciting, there’s a distinctive feel to the music that centres on the history and tradition, whilst plotting a course of refreshing originality throughout the whole of the suite. For much of its thirty-minute running time, there’s an intense, fast-moving pace that reflects the looms themselves, with their driving rhythms, pausing only occasionally for some minimalist respite.
A similar vibe continues with the rest of the album, with five further tracks offering a great mix of intelligent writing and arranging and wonderful soloing, making for a highly enjoyable and entertaining listen. “Blues” does what it says on the tin, a darker, somewhat apocalyptic feel punctuated by Jason Yarde’s fabulously turgid yet effervescent alto sax. “Song” is an expanded version of the track that appeared on Siegel’s excellent quartet album “Vista”. A much lighter piece, with some beautiful touches, solos from Mark Nightingale and Percy Pursglove add to the overall warmth and subtlety of the tune. Siegel utilises his orchestra to the full on the wonderful “The Missing Link” with captivating, energetic solos from trumpeter Claus Stotter and Siegel himself. Another tune originally featured on “Vista” is the angular, radiant “The Goose”. Great solos feature, but it’s that old-school big band punchy sound that’s the killer. Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy In D” closes the set, with its brisk, sunny sound bringing joy and sunshine even on a gloomy, dismal day. This whole album raises the spirits. An excellent recording with a great atmosphere, exactly as a live album should be.