REVIEW: Julian Siegel Big Band at Ronnie Scott's

The Julian Siegel Big Band at Ronnie Scott's
Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life

Julian Siegel Big Band 
(Ronnie Scotts,  16 March 2017. Review by Frank Griffith)

The Julian Siegel Big Band made their London debut on 16 March at Ronnie Scotts with an all-star ensemble. Amongst this illustrious hand picked amalgamation of UK's finest were saxists, Stan Sulzmann, Tori Freestone, Jason Yarde, Gemma Moore, Mike Chillingworth and the leader himself. The trumpets of UK veteran, Henry Lowther and the visiting Claus Stoetter of the NDR Band in Hamburg, with Percy Pursglove were joined by trombonists like Mark Nightingale and Harry Brown and Trevor Mires, as well as the seamless tuba and bass trombone artistry of Richard Henry. An absolutely stellar rhythm section of pianist Liam Noble, Mike Outram, guitar, Oli Hayhurst, bass, and the eclectic, yet driving percussion, USA expatriate, Gene Calderazzo, went to great lengths to fully ignite the furnaces at this venerated hall of jazz. Finally, the heroically and flawless lead trumpet of Tom Walsh played a principal role as well as the conducting of Nick Smart, whose band "Black-Eyed Dog" played a spectacular set to open the show.

This performance was part of a six-date UK tour commissioned in large part by Derby Jazz (Siegel is from Nottingham) and several well earned mentions of Geoff Wright, the gaffer of said organisation that enabled this project to come to life. Also celebrating at the club was Jazzwise Magazine, in their 20th anniversary of publication represented by a phalanx of the great and the good of this worthy publication. All in all, an opportune setting for what was a grand night of sounds.

Some punters and readers might be interested to note the novel and effective layout of the 17-piece entourage. The six saxophones and four trombones bedecked the front of the stage in an arc formation presumably to hear each other better. The four trumpets stood on the extreme left not far from the audience but within clear earshot of the rhythm section which was laid out evenly through the middle of the stage, side by side each other. This afforded both audience and horn players to see, hear and feel this all important unit in an integrated and embracing fashion. Any large ensemble anticipating a forthcoming engagement at Ronnies, please take note.

Siegel's six pieces explored a wealth of grooves, tonal colours and styles. These include a 1970s Tower of Power-like funky extravaganza, Mama Badgers, which opened the set and a languid, moaning blues entitled Blues. His Song was a ruminative ballad featuring his wistful tenor and introduced by Oli Hayhurst's pensive reading of the melancholic tune played by unaccompanied bass. This reminds one of Kenny Wheeler's pieces being introduced by the solo bass of Dave Holland, a longtime collaborator of his. A haunting quality persevered throughout yet kept the listener engaged with a ever hopeful sense that all was going to be well in the end.

Derby Jazz commissioned piece Tales From The Jacquard was a twenty minute masterpiece that had so many sections, grooves, change ups and tempos that one does not have sufficient time to detail it here. It featured a multitude of soloists that included Claus Stoetter, Tori Freestone, Harry Brown, Stan Sulzman, Mike Chillingworh and Gene Calderazzo. All to great effect contributing so much more to this already epic and heroic work.

The Missing Link was an uptempo romp with a sophisticated chordal scheme for blowers "getting paid by the note" to fully flex their chops in the jazz equivalent of an Olympian effort negotiating through a challenging course. Claus' and Julian's solo outings on this "steaming steeplechase" accomplished exactly this.

The Julian Siegel big band in a rehearsal break
Photo credit: Steven Cropper / Transient Life


The opening of "Interlude" had a delightful trio of bass clarinet, baritone sax and tuba conversing amongst themselves. "Aglow with the lower blowers" if you will. This then led to blistering solos by saxists, Jason Yarde and Tori Freestone over a medium shuffely beat broken up a recurring eight bar interlude with a Giant Steps-y harmonic sequence that resulted in a welcome solo from Liam Noble's piano.

The set finished off with Siegel's arrangement of the late Cedar Walton's Fantasy in D that featured a healthy bevy of soloist including Tom Walsh, Trevor Mires as well as the time honoured tradition of tenor sax exchanges between the leader and Stan Sulzmann. Julian did also mention that Walton was a frequent visitor to the club and what better way to conclude the evening giving a nod to this great pianist and composer.

A truly magnificent night, The last performance of the tour is tonight in Birmingham. .

LINK: Interview about the tour with Julian Siegel