Drummer Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, a sculptor of rhythm with a tendency to spiritual post-bop and gospel-inflected modalism, showcases London Live, an 8-track album recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on the last night of a 2010 European quartet tour. The band features habitual co-workers Erica Lindsay on tenor saxophone and Francesca Tanksley on piano, both contributing with originals, plus Vienna-based bassist Uli Langthaler.
Lindsay-penned “Meet Me at The Station” anchors in a radiant modal jazz, evoking the work of Coltrane, McCoy, and Chico Freeman. The piece has Siegel’s effervescent drumming highlighting ride cymbal attacks and evincing a natural ability to swing distinctively. The quartet maintains the Coltrane invocations and spiritual connotations on Tanksley’s exuberant “A New Freedom”, in which the saxophonist embarks on circular agitation and angular figures, having the pianist building harmonic blocks with perfect pedal-points. Defining the layer beneath with magical tension, Tanksley works together with the bandleader and Langthaler, who both improvise after employing skittering percussive methods and grooving pizzicatos, respectively.
If Siegel’s “Art’s Message” follows a blues-based modal form to honor the inspiring drummer Art Blakey, then “Crescent Sound” opens with the bandleader dancing on the toms before adding cymbals in an Elvin Jones-inspired drum solo. A brief hard-swinging passage holds up Lindsay’s rhythmically inventive improv fueled by crisp exclamations, which totally come to a halt when Tanksley takes the lead. Having just bass as accompaniment, she becomes unpredictably bluesy prior to the reinstatement of the avant-gardish short theme.
Tranquility is found not only on Coltrane’s “Peace On Earth”, which opens with a bass solo, but also on “M Song”, a ballad Siegel wrote for his wife, implementing harmonic movements typical from jazz standards.
With the exceptional level of interplay that characterize them, the band renders the African American spiritual “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me”, arranged by tenorist Arthur Rhames, with rock-steady tonalities and a riveting pose.
Even if not so strong as last year’s King of Xhosa, London Live has an uplifting quality deriving from a rich combination of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic senses that also shows the generous and thoughtful temperament of Siegel’s compositional style.