ALBUM REVIEW: Jeff “Siege” Siegel Quartet’s “King of Xhosa”


Review by Jeff Nania

Drummer-composer Jeff Siegel’s newest album King of Xhosa marks a return to the era of heavy jazz grooves with some additional South African flavor mixed into the stew.

The record charts many moods throughout its 13 tracks – from “Inner Passion’s” quiet and tame melody with an all-encompassing vibe that embraces the listener to the brightness of “Erica’s Bag,” and “King Of Xhosa’s” fierce bass line and the two percussion tracks that sandwich the album from either end.

As soon as you turn it on you are welcomed with “Totem,” a beautifully captured chant accompanied by percussionist Fred Berryhill’s African drums that transports the listener into this absolute journey of an album and lets you know that you are in for something a little bit different – something steeped in tradition and yet brilliantly modern in its fusion of jazz and some deep roots music.

Tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay is joined by South African trumpeter Feya Faku for that classic hard line sound up front while Siegel’s steadfast drumming always provides the perfect backdrop for whatever it is that’s about to occur as the music develops.

“Call To Spirits” begins with an ethereal backdrop of shakers while Faku’s horn plays a wandering melody that gives way to another layer of percussion from Fred Berryhill and tom-toms from Siegel. Then Lindsay answers with her own take on the melody, and just as her last note is released, Rich Syracuse enters with a bass line that propels the rest of the tune in conjunction with Siegel’s rhumba-like cymbal pattern. Faku and Lindsay again take turns in the call-and-response melody just as pianist Francesca Tanksley enters, and the tune is off and running toward a particularly poignant solo from Faku.

The title track, “King of Xhosa,” refers to the Xhosa language of South Africa and as such is an homage to Faku’s homeland. The tune begins with an authoritative roll across Siegel’s tom-toms, quickly followed up by the linking of Tanksley’s left hand with Syracuse’s bass for an extra powerful bassline that serves as the basis of this tune, sounding like something out of the songbag of alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett. The melody takes a brief reprieve from the hard-edged sound with a bridge that floats over a clave. Meanwhile, Faku takes the first solo over the form, but it is the break for the tenor solo which is especially interesting. The chords and bass drop out, and we hear the ample tapestry provided by Siegel and Berryhill as the backdrop to Lindsay‘s opening musical statements.

Although every track brings something special to the album, “Get Real” may have the potential for the broadest appeal without ever sounding cliched or played out — it’s a blues shuffle, but not a roadhouse shuffle, rather a ’60s hard bop blues shuffle with heavy sheets of McCoy Tyner-like chords and bold solo statements from Tanksley.

“Erica’s Bag” is another fun and uplifting tune with its bright major samba beat and light-hearted melody that gets a little more serious as it reaches its conclusion.

King Of Xhosa is a product of the ARC (Artist’s Recording Collective) imprint which also features Greater Nippertown’s own Keith Pray Quintet, Lee Shaw Trio and a live Shaw/John Medeski’s one-off concert at The Egg among its impressive catalog.

Scott Petito engineered the record at his NRS Recording Studios in Catskill, and it’s never over-processed. You can hear a clarity that is thoroughly modern while still able to maintain the “real” feel that this particular type of jazz deserves.

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