Drummer Siegel lifts audiences to new heights
Saturday, April 10, 2004
By Kitty Montgomery – Kingston, New York
So you think a drummer is just a timekeeper? Hey, they’ve got machines to do that. In countries sociologists call “third world”,” where ancient cultural traditions are the source of today’s “world beat” music, those who palmed skins were respected as the maestros of any instrumental collectives, if not the shamanic high priests of their whole community.
Fast-forward to the Rosendale Cafe the night of April 3, when Jeff “Siege” Siegel worked in his band of four to catch an example of what a contemporary percussion master effects, beyond setting the groove and drumming up killer Gene Krupa solos. Siegel, who can lay siege to his traps with the most awesome of power egotists (though ever subtle and inventive) was the composer of tunes played by his all-star quartet, recorded live on this occasion, preceding an imminent European tour.
Siegel served five years with the Sir Roland Hanna Trio, also backing Ravi Coltrane and Ron Carter, among a discerning multitude. If you were to catch this man in the act, you would see him setting the aura beyond the groove that reflects the impulse of his improvisers. They take his themes, sail off (while he sends up a rolling, iridescent surf behind their trips,) and return safe, blowing the minds of the audience.
The “they” in this quartet are a trinity of monster players who each lead their own groups, additionally contributing individual lights to “names” in the jazz scene. Erica Lindsay, who blows tenor saxophone in a no-frills pipeline connection straight to God – she plays the who truth and nothing but the truth – gigs with the Oliver Lake Big Band, McCoy Tyner and Baikida Carroll.
The lady with digits of steel, Francesca Tanksley, whose solid chording expands to a fission thing when her articulations spark the ivories in solos, works in the Billy Harper Quintet, sometimes gracing David “Fathead” Newman’s appearances. Both these women have played peripherally in the Camelot jazz scene that once was Creative Music Studio, and it sends chills through the spine to experience the current reach of profundity – call it honesty – in their evolved play. And let’s add glory to that.
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How Ira Coleman got away from his 24-seven gig as bassist and musical director for Dee Dee Bridgewater to work with Siegel, nobody said. The man also hangs 10 behind Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and a whole bunch, being one of those “sought-after dudes” whose adroit, gut-plucking power – Coleman’s hands at play encompass the string board like an NBA star palms a basketball – is supplemented by receptive sensitivity and smarts. Tunes up and out included Siegel’s tribute to Sir Roland and six other numbers in a first set, establishing the unique and inimitable sounds of the players, elevated by the mass. When the quartet hit lift-off, that miraculous instant expanded, and the whole band fused to something greater than its many parts.
You can have a groove drive like crazy, with rocketing axe solos, and still, such moments may not occur. This kind of play is like sky-diving up from planet earth – the negative force of gravity in improvisation, comprised of the literal, the rational, narcissism and sheer fear. It’s a leap based on faith in peers and in a drummer who you know is going to maintain an inspirational hydro-dynamic force, elevating you throughout your levitation.
Coming down to total tacit, Tanksley has the blitzed look of Lawrence of Arabia, just back from the desert. Lindsay’s cool. Solos emitting from her horn during flight achieved marvels of misty curlicues, beautiful in their swirling. This is no surprise to her, “out there” where she lives. Maestro Siegel is humble, getting ready for the next excursion, abetted by Coleman, whose bass play, volcanic in the groove, soars on wings of pensive whimsy.
Drummer Jeff “Siege” Siegel is leader of the Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet as well as co-leader of the Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio and The New York Trio Project. He was a member of the Sir Roland Hanna Trio from 1994-1999. He studied drums with Freddie Waits, Barry Altschul and Akira Tana. He received his B.F.A. from City College in New York City, as well as his M.A. in Jazz from Queens College where he studied composition with Jimmy Heath. He is critically acclaimed in the October ‘92 edition of Modern Drummer magazine for his work on Ryan Kisor’s Columbia Records debut “Minor Mutiny”, a date for which Siegel was chosen by its producer Jack DeJohnette. He regularly performs throughout Europe at festivals, clubs and concerts. Siegel has conducted drums clinics throughout Germany as well as the U.S.
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Siegel has also performed and/or recorded with Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell, Pat Metheny, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, Ravi Coltrane, Dave Douglas, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, David “Fathead” Newman, Lee Konitz, Nick Brignola, J.R. Monterose, John Stubblefield, Arthur Rhames, Eric Person, Joanne Brackeen, Rufus Reid, Cecil McBee, Stephon Harris, Karl Berger, Richard Stoltzman, Jay Clayton, Kurt Elling, Mose Allison, Sheila Jordan, Helen Merrill, Etta Jones, Carrie Smith, Grady Tate, Cecil Bridgewater, Johnny Coles, Terrell Stafford, Baikida Carroll, Valery Ponomarev, Wadada Leo Smith, Grahm Haynes, Steve Turre, Terrell Stafford, John Abercrombie, Claude “Fiddler” Williams, Rufus Reid, Howard Johnson, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Karole Armitage Dance Company with composer Jeffrey Lohn, Second Sight and several others. He received first prize in the International Grande Contest de Jazz, San Sebastian, Spain, as a member of the CCNY Jazz Quintet as well as third place for best soloist award.
Siegel is the jazz drumming instructor at both Western Connecticut State University, The State University of New York at New Paltz as well as at Hartford Conservatory. He is head of the percussion department of the National Guitar Workshop as well. Siegel has received several Meet the Composer grants. He is endorsed by Vic Firth drumsticks.