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Review: Carla Bley plus Julian Siegel

Review: Carla Bley’s Lost Chords plus Julian Siegel Trio

(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 17th 2009)

I definitely feel the need to spare the reader today, to distil the strongest impressions from four-and-a-half hours spent at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night into something crisp. If not quite Bridget Jones telegramese, then let every word from now on today fight for its place.

Joey Baron (above), the drummer in Julian Siegel ‘s trio needs to be seen. He is something else. He gives the impression that every single percussive hit on a drum or rim or cymbal is precisely, even superhumanly placed. He is intent and concentrated on his own performance, but those eyes, moving from left (to look at Cohen) and right (Siegel) are so alert and watchful. There’s linkedup energy in the stick movement and in the smile. Unbelievable. As one musican remarked to me, it must be completely daunting, because it feels as if Baron is never, never wrong. Alternative profession: tennis umpire, perhaps.

This trio is world-class. There is nothing Siegel cannot do on a tenor saxophone, the CD they recorded Live at the Vortex (Basho) is stunning, but they’re getting better. There was an accident. Baron suddenly found his stick disintegrating. Two, three bits flew off, and drumstick became a pencil stub. Without a single hit going astray.

Carla Bley has what the lonely hearts columns call GSOH. (A good/quirky/understated sense of humour like Bley’s should be available on prescription during the next six months of grubby electioneering which Britain is about to undergo.) The Lost Chords are what we need: a band where they are all constantly looking around for where the next laugh might be coming from.

In the interview before the gig Bley was remembering being a cigarette girl in Birdland, selling Paul Bley a packet of Luckies – that was the lonely heart sorted out with her GSOH once- writing for Paul Bley’s band , meeting Steve Swallow – that makes twice- and then musically building out a duo into the current quartet.

Highlights of ECM-ish beauty were the moody modal and Miles-y Lost Chords , and a sublime encore Útviklingssang. I loved the Weill-ish digging-in of Valse Sinistre. Drummond was ever-lively, Swallow impeccable and warm-toned, Sheppard fluent. But what I will remember- especially for when the politicians drone- is the anarchic chuckle of this band.

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6 replies »

  1. Peter Slavid commented (via Facebook):

    “Hi Seb, I agree totally about Julian's group – but I was a bit disappointed with Carla Bley. Specifically I was a bit disappointed with Andy Sheppard – at times his soft romantic breathy tone sounded almost like smooth jazz – the opposite of what I expect from Carla Bley. He's a fierce improviser – but that only rarely came through last night.

    Having said that it was still a good set – but I expect great gigs from Carla Bley – not just good ones”

  2. I know I am somewhat biased, but having seen Julian's trio many times now I have to agree that this show is not just musically stimulating but visually entrancing. The level of communication, sense of humour and playfulness between the three musicians is astonishing. Not only do they look as if they are having a great time, they are having a great time, and they make the audience feel as if they are part of their fun. They were all ecstatic after the show. Pure Joy.

  3. Julian's group were as superb as I knew they would be.
    I too am biased but Joey Baron / Greg Cohen are “the” rhythm section for me.

    Carla Bley veered towards smooth jazz at times but were an absolute revelation.

    Billy Drummond was a wonderful listening drummer I hadn't encountered before and the last piece and encore were the best things I've heard this year.

  4. Hi – it's worth remembering that Carla Bley once made the definitive smooth jazz album – Dinner Music – before it was even called smooth jazz. Also Night-Glo, which got a critical drubbing at the time. Andy Sheppard interprets her music in very personal and sensitive way, cliche-free. JLW

  5. Hi John,
    I'm afraid I didn't like those albums either.
    I suppose the music that I really like is her big band music where her quirky tunes and imaginative arrangements bring out the best in a range of really strong improvisers – over many years from Mike Mantler to Lew Soloff and from Elton Dean to Andy Sheppard. I suppose I knew that her smal groups were more intimate, but with a couple of exceptions it was too delicate for my taste.

  6. I don't agree with many of your commenters – I loved the Lost Chords! I thought Sheppard was excellent – he played some exciting solos. He wasn't playing in fiery stream-of-notes style – lots of long notes instead – but he seemed to be inventive and sensitive. Bley and Swallow were great – they played a very spiritual duet from the new Carols CD – and as John wrote, the unpronounceable encore was sublime!

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