Urban Theme Park
To be released on 18th April, the Julian Siegel Quartet's Urban Theme Park is Siegel's second quartet album in nine long years since Close-Up. Has it been worth the wait? You bet!
Siegel, on tenor, soprano, clarinet and bass clarinet, is joined in his all-star quartet by Liam Noble on piano and keyboards, Oli Hayhurst on bass, and Gene Calderazzo on drums, with the latter two having replaced Jeremy Brown and Gary Husband respectively quite some time ago. Siegel, who has long established himself as one of the finest tenors on the British scene, with a smooth, velvety voice, has refined this ever more over the years. His voice is now one of if not the smoothest tenor voice around. Smooth as silk or double cream, it makes butter seem positively lumpy and is a delight in itself.
Noble is one of the most adventurous pianists and will also need little introduction here. Hayhurst with his delightfully crisp bass is perhaps still best remembered for his contributions as one of the original members of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble from 2000 to 2002, with whom he recorded their first two albums. He already was one of the finest young bassists on the scene then and still is one of the very finest. Calderazzo, one of the truly great drummers, surely needs no introduction.
Together, the Julian Siegel Quartet is like a finely tuned engine - in perfect sync, and as highly empathic and tight as you could hope for. A truly world-class ensemble. With Urban Theme Park, they have delivered probably the most exciting album of this year so far.
There is never any shortage of inspiration here, with breathtaking improvs from Siegel as well as Noble and Hayhurst, with some of the fiercest bop chops to be found on the UK scene, and some wonderful solos from Calderazzo. These solos will often have you at the very edge of your seat. Siegel's sensitivity and great depth are reminiscent of Wayne Shorter, with a fluency that has few peers. Both Siegel and Noble continually manage to surprise with unexpected turns. Hayhurst's solos are no less inventive, and it's a truly delightful surprise to find that he is afforded more opportunity to shine than bassists are most of the time these days. The ensemble playing is flawless and just as delightful, with some particularly inventive and sensitive contributions from Hayhurst and Calderazzo.
The nine tracks on Urban Theme Park are made up of eight Siegel originals and Cedar Walton's Fantasy in D. Siegel's compositions are strong and mature efforts that are sheer delight. The music always remains beautifully accessible yet never lacks in sophistication, complexity or interest. Distant, and sometimes not so distant echoes abound of Igor Stravinsky's ballet music, early-ish Miles Davis, John Taylor (One For J.T.), Joe Zawinul, Cedar Walton, and Joe Henderson. Here and there, shades of Eric Dolphy also seem to emerge. African-inspired drum grooves and drones underline an excursion into twelve-tone territory - Drone Job - that, by virtue of both for once actually making sense of twelve-tone and staying melodious, would probably be worth the price of admission by itself.
However, much the same could be said for any of the tracks on Urban Theme Park. It would be completely futile to try and pick any particular favourite here. Although I must profess a great fondness for bass clarinet - absorbed through Eric Dolphy being among my early 'heroes' of jazz - I couldn't possibly put even the wonderful Interlude ahead of any of the other tracks. This album is simply too good, too brilliant.
Thus, if it's consistency you're looking for, Urban Theme Park delivers it. Brilliantly. Far more than compelling, this album is simply addictive - I was hooked before the end of the first track. Delivered by some of the real heavyweights of younger British players, Urban Theme Park is not only brilliant, but also immensely beautiful, and an intensely enjoyable listening experience. Inspired and inspirational. This is one of those jazz albums that simply has it all - from edge-of-seat, nail-biting excitement to great lyrical beauty, with tons of wit and good humour thrown in, and more.
To say that the Julian Siegel Quartet's Urban Theme Park is beyond essential in any half-decent contemporary jazz collection would be an understatement. Definitely a must-have!
© 2011 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.