Album reviews

Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra – ‘Tales From The Jacquard’

Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra – Tales From The Jacquard
(Whirlwind Recordings. Album review by Richard Lee)

For the last 25 years, saxophonist Julian Siegel has been establishing himself as a first-rate player in a variety of ensembles, including his own quartet. While this excellent recording is now four years old, its release cements Julian’s position in British jazz as a superb musician, composer/arranger and generous bandleader.

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Clearly driven by something close to his heart – lace-making was Julian’s father Bernard’s life and career in Nottingham and the Siegels’ love of music was ever-present – the tales that Julian has spun from the Jacquard punch-cards and codes that guide the creation of intricate patterns in commercial lace production just fizz with creative energy. It’s also clearly an intellectual challenge he has set himself, to explore the mathematical, musical and system structures that the cards’ configurations present.

An accompanying booklet to the finely-presented CD package has a fascinating essay by Julian on how he has gone about that, and out of the detailed – occasionally head-spinning – complexity we’ve been gifted a terrific suite that brings to mind in its overall joyful sound work by the Mikes Westbrook and, especially, Gibbs. The latter is no surprise, Julian having been a key member of the 80th birthday gigs that took place around the same time as this was recorded and it has clearly benefited from that influence. These are tales that demand showcasing and the 20-strong ensemble do their boss proud. All credit to Derby Jazz for commissioning it, Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts for hosting it and to Cluny Lace for help with the research process.

Opening with the sound of the looms themselves suggests this could be a kind of audio Night Mail, an examination via tone-poem of the industry itself. The three movements of the suite are carefully constructed around themes and motifs that conjure mechanical rhythms and sounds of metal and materials being tautened, spun and in motion. The one that opens parts 2 & 3 has either a Penguin Café or folk air to it; either way, it’s all wonderfully evocative without being merely illustrative.

And most important, those themes and ensemble passages are the springboard to some thrilling soloing, notably from Claus Stötter on flugel and Tori Freestone on flute at the top of proceedings, and later in the third movement, from old hands Stan Sulzmann and Henry Lowther. Julian follows with his own blistering tenor to round off the suite which is generously shaped to give maximum room to the bandmembers’ prowess. Underpinning the solo work are long-term rhythm associates Liam Noble (who opens proceedings rather beautifully), Oli Hayhurst and Gene Calderazzo, all of whom take spots themselves. Let’s hope the suite has more outings, perhaps with some enterprising Midlands film-maker who’ll supply complementary images of the Jacquards.

The following set is all Siegel compositions, with the exception of the final track, Julian’s arrangement of Cedar Walton’s Fantasy in D, which is taken at quite a lick, injecting new life into this semi-standard, not least with his effortless tenor duet/duel with Stan Sulzmann. Stan is also featured along with Mike Chillingworth on alto having tremendous fun honking (sic) on The Goose, a much brasher version than Julian’s quartet offered on his album Vista, but completely apt for a bigger band.

There’s more standout soloing to be had from Jason Yarde and Trevor Mires on Blues which opens the second set, with plenty of room for orchestra and rhythm section to showcase their grip on things. Then to what is for my money the loveliest piece on the album: the plangent Song was another original from the Vista album and its opening up here, along with Mark Nightingale’s agile trombone and Percy Pursglove’s soaring flugel solos, is quite something. Claus Stötter, guesting from the NDR Big Band, deserves another mention here, taking the trumpet solo honours in The Missing Link.

It’s always a pleasure to see Julian on the stand, where he’s enhanced so many ensembles. It’s a delight therefore to hear him running his own so pleasurably for all concerned. Tales From The Jacquard is an essential record of a jubilant concert, and the premier of what will be seen as a notable work of British jazz. In every sense, a homecoming for Julian: Bernard Siegel would be proud beyond belief.

Track Listing

Tales from the Jacquard Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Blues; Song; The Missing Link; The Goose (all comp. Julian Siegel); Fantasy In D (comp. Cedar Walton arr. Julian Siegel).


Julian Siegel: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Tom Walsh: trumpet; Percy Pursglove: trumpet/flugel; Henry Lowther: trumpet; Claus Stötter: trumpet/flugel; Mark Nightingale: trombone; Trevor Mires: trombone; Harry Brown: trombone; Richard Henry: bass trombone, tuba; Mike Chillingworth: alto saxophone; Jason Yarde: alto and soprano saxophones; Stan Sulzmann: tenor saxophone; Tori Freestone: tenor saxophone, flute; Gemma Moore: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Mike Outram: guitar; Liam Noble: piano; Oli Hayhurst: double bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums; Nick Smart: conductor.

LINK: Tales from the Jacquard on Bandcamp

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