Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra – Tales from the Jacquard

Tales from the Jacquard, parts one, two and three, open this fascinating album by Julian Siegal and his Jazz Orchestra. The album came about by way of a commission from the Derby Jazz Festival in 2017.

On the half-hour Tales from the Jacquard, history fuses with technique. The piece is rooted in the East Midlands, where Siegel’s parents owned a lace-making business.

“I have clear memories of trips to the lace factory with my dad in the 1970s and hearing the sound of the machines – he wanted to conduct them! My Dad always had a great love for music and after work at home in Nottingham, Ellington, Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Lockjaw Davis, Paul Gonsalves and Ben Webster would be on the turntable as well as a lot classical music. It seemed like a natural thing to try and explore the lace making process and use this research to inspire new music.”

Jacquard image by Geoff Wright

The opening suite starts with the sound of the lace making machines before pianist Liam Noble takes over with a simple, spacious melody that, with the introduction of other instruments, slowly builds until a broader jazz sound is reached with Claus Stötter taking the solo lead on flugelhorn. I was immediately taken with the depth of tone, the way the piece developed and grew, and the strength of support from the orchestra underpinning the melodic lines of Stötter. Liam Noble on piano once again takes the lead on the opening of part two with his playing punctuated with repeated phrases from the trumpet section. The flute of Tori Freestone adds a lightness, which contrast beautifully with the tuba of Richard Henry. We also get to hear Julian Siegel on soprano sax. For me, the flute and soprano sax represented the lace that was coming off the heavy machinery embodied in the sound of the tuba. There is a wonderful section where Gene Calderazzo produces a rhythmic pattern that is so distinctively that of a machine as it works through the Jacquard Cards that directly influence the composition. Part two of the suite is full of light and shade, variation in tone that I had to listen through so many times just to appreciate the structure of the piece.

Part three of the opening suite is the longest coming in at just shy of eighteen minutes. It opens with the full-throated sound of Harry Brown on trombone with excellent support from Oli Hayhurst on bass and drummer Gene Calderazzo. Liam Noble anchors parts of the piece with a repeating pattern over which the orchestra plays its own motif before the introduction of a gorgeous sound on tenor sax. This is full blown orchestral jazz that is an absolute joy to hear. The piece breaks with a bass solo with the accompaniment of the lace making machines first heard in part one before the big band sound takes over with a solo from Henry Lowther on trumpet. The tempo is lively, the timbre bright and the drumming of Gene Calderazzo simply a delight to listen to. The volume drops away around the fifteen minute mark and the playing becomes more relaxed, almost pastoral in tone. The ‘Tales from the Jacquard’ suite is so well composed to the point of being mind blowing in that the rhythmic patterns and melodies are translated from punched out cards that determine the patterns created by the lace making machines (the booklet that comes with the album goes in to the compositional process in more detail than I can in this review).

There are five more tracks to this album which, if I were to cover as I would normally, would make for a very lengthy review. However, the opening suite is the star attraction here so an overview will just have to suffice. ‘Blues’ is just as the title describes, a blues number with a heavy bass line over which Jason Yarde on soprano sax and Trevor Mires on trombone play their solos. This a slow, weighty blues that, if it were not for soprano sax could be described as oppressive but impressive. This is followed by ‘Song’, an expanded version of the track that appeared on the quartet album Vista. This a gentle, lighter tune than the blues number before it with some beautiful trombone and flugelhorn playing from Mark Nightingale and Percy Pursglove respectively.

Graphic design by Dave Bush

The mood remains relatively sombre for the opening of ‘The Missing Link’ before the tune lightens up with a bright sounding trumpet solo from Claus Stötter. As the piece progresses the swing becomes more prominent with a big band sound behind the sax solo played by Julian Siegel. ‘The Goose’ is another tune that featured on the album Vista, which here is expanded to allow for the soloists to stretch out. Stan Sulzmann takes the first solo with stellar support from the orchestra. Liam Noble on piano, Mike Chillingworth playing alto sax, and bassist Oli Hayhurst all have their moment in the spotlight and not a moment is wasted on this terrific tune.

The album is ends with Cedar Walton’s ‘Fantasy in D’ – all other tracks having been written by Julian Siegel. This is a great tune on which to end a set and the arrangement by Julian deserves complimenting. The tempo is brisk, driven by the playing of Gene Calderazzo and the opening trombone solo from Trevor Mires. There is a nice trade section between the two saxes of Julian Siegel and Stan Sulzmann before Gene Calderazzo gets to play his final drum solo. The tune ends with the full orchestra playing some great jazz followed by the applause of an appreciative audience – the album was recorded at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham, on 15th March 2017 for an original broadcast on BBC Radio 3 Jazz Now.

This has been a joy of an album to review; the compositions and arrangements are first class. The musicianship throughout too is first class. The album gives up more of the ideas behind it on every subsequent listening. I am fascinated by the concept of the opening suite and how Julien has used a mechanical process to produce such wonderful melodic and rhythmic patterns that blend perfectly to make a coherent and enjoyable whole. My only regret would be that I was not at the recording in 2017 to soak up the atmosphere created by this Jazz Orchestra who have played such an interesting, varied and thought-provoking set: thank goodness for recorded posterity!


1 – 3. Tales from Jacquard Parts 1,2 & 3

4. Blues

5. Song

6. The Missing Link

7. The Goose

8. Fantasy in D

Musicians: Julian Siegel – tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, composition, arrangements
Nick Smart – conductor
Tom Walsh, Percy Pursglove, Henry Lowther & Claus Stotter – trumpets
Mark Nightingale, Trevor Mires & Harry Brown – trombones
Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba
Mike Chillingworth – alto saxophone Jason Yarde – alto & 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

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