What The Vortex may lack in physical comfort, it more than makes up in the quality and sheer variety of music it presents. From as yet well below the horizon young Turks to the top names on the British jazz scene, you'll find them all at The Vortex. (And they even serve decent beer!)
Last night it was the turn of one of the established heavyweights of the UK scene, the all-star Julian Siegel Quartet, launching their recently released superb album Urban Theme Park (also reviewed on this site).
Julian Siegel has few peers both as a tenorist, with a silky smooth, gorgeous voice that also carries over to his soprano, clarinet and bass clarinet, and in the bop chops department. His sensitivity and willingness to take risks and experiment are just as phenomenal.
Pianist and keyboardist Liam Noble is the perfect foil to Siegel, with an equal sense of adventure and experimentation. He is now well entrenched as one of the leading pianists of the relatively senior generation.
Oli Hayhurst is the relatively 'junior partner' in this remarkable quartet age-wise, but hearing him one would hardly credit it! I was already highly impressed with the then very young Hayhurst during his tenure as one of the original members of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble back at the beginning of the 'noughties.' I am delighted that he has blossomed even more over the years
and already more than fulfilled his early promise. Hayhurst is - or rather, remains, one should say - one of the very finest bassists on the British scene, delivering beautifully deep, crisp, well-defined bass lines combined with a fine lyricism.
One of the truly great drummers of his generation, American Gene Calderazzo is a boon the the British scene, and of course to the Julian Siegel Quartet. That an American player of Calderazzo's calibre should choose to play in Britain rather than his native America is surely a compliment and an acknowledgement of the vibrancy and vitality of British jazz.
Taken together, the Julian Siegel Quartet is greater than the sum of its individual players and unquestionably one of the very finest, world-class bands around. Tuesday night at The Vortex yet again provided ample proof of this, if proof were needed. The packed audience at The Vortex was given a superlative treat of a performance.
In two outstanding sets, the Julian Siegel Quartet covered the material of their stunning new Urban Theme Park album and brought it to life like no recording can.
All the players were on top form and simply breathtaking. The ensemble playing could not be faulted if one tried, it was sheer perfection. The soloing by all players kept taking things higher and higher and left one way off-planet. And right on the very edge of one's seat, to be sure. The sheer excitement of this performance was downright palpable.
Opening the first set with Heart Song, Siegel amply demonstrated his outstanding clarinet. One felt nailed to the edge of one's seat from the outset.
Each succeeding piece kept raising the ante, with ever more soaring improvs from Siegel (mainly on his gorgeous tenor), Noble and Hayhurst and fine solos from Calderazzo. Inspiration, imagination and innovation all round were firmly wedded to subtlety and lyricism and an exciting sense of adventure and exploration.
By the end of the first set, a short rest from such a high level of excitement seemed welcome indeed, and certainly more than well earned by the quartet.
If anybody had thought the second set would see some sort of let up, they were grossly mistaken. Siegel and his quartet kept further increasing a near climactic buildup throughout. Noble's synth and sampled sounds now also came into play on a number of pieces, sometimes looped alongside his piano. No matter how you may feel about electronics, you'd have to admit that here - just as on the album - they worked supremely well and were used with rare inspiration and intelligence.
Siegel's soprano now also saw its outing alongside his tenor. But most notable in some ways perhaps was Siegel's bass clarinet throughout Interlude - a perhaps somewhat misleading title as it is a delightfully long and beefy piece.
This was some of the most extraordinary bass clarinet you're ever likely to hear, with a smoothness of voice that even extended right down to its lowest chalumeau notes which emerged with an exquisite rumble rather than a rasp from Siegel's instrument. You'd have to go back rather a long way to hear such sensitive, fluid and imaginative playing and soloing on this instrument - Dolphy, to be precise, and yet Siegel's lyricism still was something rather special here.
When the set came to an end, the only thing one could have wished for was, more of the same! The crowd certainly seemed to feel the same. However, after so much excitement and such sheer exquisite music performed with such excellence and brilliance, I don't think anyone could have held it against the quartet for passing on an encore.
In the same way that Urban Theme Park the album will stand up well to most albums of a similar nature of the last half century, last night's high-octane performance by the Julian Siegel Quartet compares well to most live performances of the same period. Music and performance of the highest calibre. And sheer magic.
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