Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra
(Symphony Hall, Birmingham. 7 February 2023. Review and photos by John Watson)
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The Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra has won critical acclaim for the new album “Tales From The Jacquard”, an extraordinary suite inspired by his family background in the Nottingham lace industry.
On Tuesday the 19-strong orchestra opened a UK tour at Symphony Hall in Birmingham (further tour dates below). The Jacquard in the title of the suite refers to the weaving looms of the lace industry (the looms are named after their French inventor, Joseph Marie Jacquard). The percussive drive of the machines underpins the whole work – which even incorporates brief recordings of the looms clattering away – and how wonderful to have such an imaginative, original work in the big band repertoire. The background to Julian’s new suite is explored in detail in an interview with John Fordham (LINK BELOW).
The Birmingham performance, conducted by Nick Smart, took place with both orchestra and audience on the vast stage of Symphony Hall, an arrangement which has proved a considerable success in the past for the hall’s promoters, B:Music.
The first night of a tour can sometimes seem a little musically tentative, as the music “beds in” and the performers get to grips with music that is – as in the case of Tales Of The Jacquard and other Siegel original pieces – intensely complex.
But when trumpeter and flugelhornist Percy Pursglove took the first solo of the night something rather special happened. It came on a piece that preceded the Jacquard suite, a composition by Julian, called “Wild Child”, a tribute to Wayne Shorter. Pursglove’s magnificently intense solo lit a fierce flame that seemed to switch the whole band into overdrive. It was a transformative moment.
There was exceptionally fine playing later from German trumpeter Claus Stoetter, who like Pursglove is a regular player in the NDR Big Band in Hamburg, and from Steve Fishwick, who was depping at short notice for the indisposed Henry Lowther and demonstrating what a master musician he is.
Siegel’s playing is always elegant and stimulating, and it was good to see another great reedman, Stan Sulzmann, sitting alongside him. The leader’s duet with altoist Nathaniel Facey was another high point, with a high level of interplay. There were also gorgeous solo contributions from trombonist Mark Nightingale and flautist Tori Freestone.
Siegel’s regular quartet features pianist Liam Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo, and each had a special role in the new suite – with Hayhurst in a challenging duet with the Jacquard machine soundtrack, and Calderazzo driving the whole band with stupendous force.
Julian’s date was being followed at Symphony Hall the following night (Wednesday 8 February) by another rare big band concert, with the Manchester-based high-energy band Beats & Pieces.
TOUR DATES: (These concerts benefit from Arts Council England funding)
Turner Sims in Southampton (Thursday 9 February)
Sheffield Jazz (Friday 10 February),
Deda Studio Theatre for Derby Jazz (Saturday 11 February)
Ronnie Scott’s in London (Sunday 12 February).