karl e. h. seigfried
Bassist and guitarist Karl E. H. Seigfried is deeply involved in today's Chicago music scene and has performed in virtually all musical styles - from classical to jazz, from avant-garde to rock. He has led groups featuring Ernest Dawkins, Jimmy Ellis, Jeff Parker and Nicole Mitchell; performed duets with Bobby McFerrin, Fred Hopkins, Peter Kowald and Nik Turner; played in ensembles led by Fred Anderson, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell and Bertram Turetzky; collaborated with members of Hawkwind, Gong, Jefferson Starship and Psychic TV; played bass for the AACM Great Black Music Ensemble and the Glenn Miller Orchestra; and performed as a jazz soloist with Chicago Sinfonietta and Rockford Symphony Orchestra. His projects in Chicago and his wide-ranging collaborations have largely been centered on an effort to promote multiculturalism in music.
"Some of the innovative jazz musicians who have come to public attention since the early 1990s are David Boykin, Karl E. H. Seigfried, Jeff Parker, and Jim Baker. This new generation embraces a wide variety of styles and techniques, creating sounds that keep the jazz scene fresh and forever evolving in true Chicago style."
- Reverend Al Sharpton, Michigan Avenue Magazine
"A prolific, genre-defying Chicago musician working in and beyond the jazz, rock, and classical idioms."
- Chicago Weekly
"Seigfried has formed collaborations that celebrate diversity and high-level musicianship."
- Jazz Institute of Chicago Jazzgram
"One of the Midwest's most exciting free bassists...a long-time figure in the city's improvised-music scene."
- TimeOut Chicago
"Among the best and the brightest from the Chicago avant-garde's new generation."
- Chicago Reader
"Seigfried's got a clear, ringing tone and executes ideas exuberantly."
- Madison Isthmus
"Karl's a tremendous bassist--he's versatile, technically adept and a very emotional player."
- Wisconsin Public Radio
Critically-acclaimed straight-ahead jazz album from the award-winning Chicago bassist/guitarist/composer!
"The Boxing Bassist Suite" opens the new recording by portraying three boxing champions who also played bass: Jack Johnson, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles. Seigfried – who writes for East Side Boxing and trained as a boxer – has composed pieces capturing the flamboyant styles of the champs inside and outside the ring.
"Portraits in Jazz" rounds out the recording with dedications to jazz artists Seigfried has worked with or who have inspired him. The pieces span rural blues, New Orleans street music, swing, bebop, funk and free jazz.
Praise for Portrait of Jack Johnson:
New Notable Music Release
BASS MUSICIAN MAGAZINE
New and Noteworthy CD Release
BOXING MONTHLY (ENGLAND)
Jazz freaks and hep cats should check it out!
JAZZIZ MAGAZINE: EDITOR’S CHOICE 2010 – TOP TEN ALBUM
Through his spirited musical interactions with alto saxophonist Greg Ward and drummer Frank Rosaly, Seigfried manages to evoke Johnson's ring unpredictability, Moore's wily nature, and Charles' raw power.
Karl Seigfried is one of those Chicago presences that helps make the city a great one for Jazz. Portrait of Jack Johnson finds Seigfried in the company of two other significant Chicago players in a trio that has the heft of good conceptual ideas, the joy and spontaneity of very lively improvisation and the structure of intrinsically compelling compositions. There are two main sections on this CD. One, the "Boxing Bassist Suite," centers around, interestingly enough, three prominent American boxers who also played bass (!): Jack Johnson, Archie Moore, and Ezzard Charles, heavyweight champs all (Moore in the light-heavyweight champ category). The second, longer section of the album is devoted to portraits of some musical creators of note, and a jazz club as well. (+)
"The Boxing Bassist Suite" combines some of the old-style slap bass styles that were associated with the three champs portrayed as well as a suggestion of the dance-like step movements so important to a great boxer. "Portrait of Jack Johnson" starts things off with an irregular, fancy footwork dancing theme that is quite fetching. The slap bass is infectiously joyous. The theme is followed by a swinging improv on the implied changes of the melody and all are in great form. Greg Ward sounds especially inspired.
For Archie Moore, "The Old Mongoose" features more slap bass and a bluesy swing-stride number that rolls along nicely. Greg pulls out some mad bop on top in fine fashion.
The finale of the suite, "Ezzard," is another rocking number that suggests Ornette-meets-jump-meets-swing. Then a bluesy swinging improv. Nice again. In his own way, Greg gets everything in there on his solo, from Rabbit to Jackie Mac and beyond.
The "Portraits" continue the lively musical program with some intensive trio workouts. As with "Boxing Bassist," roots commingle with the very personal approaches of all three players for a very pleasing result. "Up from Mississippi" (For Malachi Favors) has a happy sort of blues feel with lots of chutzpah. "Revolver," for Fred Anderson's famed Velvet Lounge, has more spritely swing as its basis, but it rocks solidly with backbeat, bass riff, and soaring saxophony.
Some of Seigfried's very interesting guitar work appears first on "Spheroid" (which is for Monk) as overdub atop the slap basswork. As you would expect, the melody exhibits a bit of the Thelonious angularity. Ward gets going with a blaze of sheets of sound (16th notes) that show some real imagination and dexterity. "Rosminah" (for Mary Lou Williams) has a quasi-Latin feel, a nice bass solo followed by a slamming Frank Rosaly drum solo - very hot!
I think that'll give you an idea of what to expect on this one. It is an exuberant set of lively trio music that manages to combine in exciting ways a great deal of the history of the music with attractive pieces and plenty of room for all three players to interact and assert their stylistic personas. I went away with it impressed with Mr. Siegfried's bass and guitar work, and his trio arranging and writing chops. Frank Rosaly and Greg Ward blow me away on this one. It is some of their best work, to my mind. Highly recommended.
DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE: FOUR-STAR REVIEW
The playing, while virtuosic, is less "operatic," more folksy. Joined by made-to-order drummer Frank Rosaly, Seigfried and Ward get more room to bow and blow. The portraits of such inspirations and former mentors as Malachi Favors ("Up from Mississippi"), Thelonious Monk ("Spheroid"), Fred Anderson ("Mr. Anderson") and Roswell Rudd ("Roswell") cover swing, New Orleans street music and funk and rural blues, among other genres. The boxing music is a far-ranging set, while the portraits are a delightful, interpretative survey of signatures and styles, all of it engaging and personable, not to mention a showcase for Seigfried's solid grasp of the music's history.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD: EDITOR’S RECOMMENDED NEW RELEASE
Bassist, guitarist and composer Karl E.H. Seigfried is 10 years older than [saxophonist Greg] Ward, but they spring from the same Chicago scene that orbited around Fred Anderson and the Velvet Lounge. Portrait of Jack Johnson, which includes a three-part "Boxing Bassist Suite" based on the fact that Johnson, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles were known to slap bass fiddles as well as opponents, also includes "Portraits in Jazz". Each composition carries a dedication and what’s interesting is how they look back to the history of jazz: Monk, Sidney Bechet and Roswell Rudd all receive nods, as do Malachi Favors, Anderson and his club and Mary Lou Williams. (+)
Seigfried’s compositions are straightahead as well, built around fresh rhythmic invention based on familiar themes, original bluesy bass vamps and the industry of his sidemen. Drummer Frank Rosaly is an able partner, keeping time like an official at a track meet and Ward is his usual soulful, swinging self, appropriate to each song’s inspiration, occasionally pushing his tone to the edge. The tastiest cuts are those that feature Seigfried’s overdubbed guitar ("Spheroid" and "Roswell") as well as the Bechet tribute "Treat It Gentle," where the trio syncopates and slow-drags the song all the way back to New Orleans’ golden age.
JAZZWISE MAGAZINE (ENGLAND)
Those with a close eye on the Chicago scene will know bassist Seigfried through his work with such Windy City stalwarts as the late Fred Anderson, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell. He has a big, rotund sound with real drive in his walking lines, and in the context of a bare bones trio such as this, every note that he plays resonates loud and clear. It's a spirited session that becomes progressively more interesting. Conceived as a tribute to three world champion boxers who were also handy with the four strings of an upright bass – Jack Johnson, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles – "The Boxing Bassist Suite," which is followed by eight tribute pieces to leading jazz musicians, is characterized by sprightly, sparky horn-led themes set to very hard swing from the bass, on which Seigfried often deploys resonant slaps that blend potently with the tangy rim shots from Rosaly's drums. Everything gallops along smartly, and Seigfried in particular makes his presence felt through some lightning subdivisions of the beat and nifty turnarounds. In the second half of the recording, the rhythm section starts to shift more inventively between a snapping funk and bustling swing pulse and the songs assume a more fluid, freewheeling structure, something which is enhanced by the overdub of thorny guitar lines that often double the reed and infuse greater drama to the performance.
JAZZ ‘N’ MORE (SWITZERLAND): FOURSTAR REVIEW
Seigfried recorded Portrait of Jack Johnson partly as a [Sonny] Sharrock-related guitarist. The three-part "Boxing Bassist Suite" is often tied together with off-beat and slap bass from the Roaring Twenties and bridges the gap to today's improvisation. Like Mingus, the bassist dominates the pulse with a lot of punch, yet interacts alertly with the drummer Rosaly.
DETROIT FREE PRESS
Chicago bassist and composer Karl E. H. Seigfried's winning new CD Portrait of Jack Johnson is a bracing workout for a lean trio. The title refers to an impressive suite inspired by three boxers who also played bass. Loose and limber, the music swings joyously, connecting the dots through a continuum from slap-bass two-beat grooves to open, bluesy post-bop that sometimes sneaks over the border into a witty, disciplined free jazz.
THE RING MAGAZINE ("THE BIBLE OF BOXING")
Weighing in with a solid 70 minutes of free jazz and varying hard bop textures, bassist Karl E. H. Seigfried has composed and crafted a set of fresh material called Portrait of Jack Johnson.
He comes out swinging with strong support from Greg Ward on alto sax and Frank Rosaly on drums.
The disc begins with "The Boxing Bassist Suite," consisting of the title track, "The Old Mongoose," and "Ezzard" based on Johnson, Archie Moore, and Ezzard Charles, respectively – each credited as a serious bottom man. How well the old champs really played may never be determined, but Seigfried is an obvious talent. (+)
Eccentric icon Johnson was an offbeat dandy, and Seigfried's fitting first combination connects as he works up and down the frets using every inch of the ring. His bass solos would make a fine fight soundtrack.
"Portraits in Jazz" completes this volume, honoring collaborators or inspirations. On "Spheroid" and "Roswell," Seigfried lays out guitar reverb and gets spacey but stays grounded.
The trio peaks jamming tight chord corridors and certainly sounds worth seeing live.
Seigfried has played everything from symphonies to space rock. As producer, he didn't show off or get lost. Ward could be a contender from the Joe Lovano Gym, while Rosaly has plenty of pop.
Jazz, like boxing, is often a harsh mistress. It's tough to find major mainstream success through an art form that's outside the mainstream. Like other progressive jazz heroes, Seigfried's band may never find the commercial rewards they deserve. Luckily, the best artists are usually fighters who don't let that stop them.
Jacket material lists a quote regarding Charles from The New York Times, stating "Ezz slaps it and bows it with the best of them."
With plenty of pluck, deep, nimble nuances and good compositional imagination, it sounds like Seigfried is getting into shape for challenging the elite ranks himself. Lines are posted from Chitown to Dixieland but never derivative.
Seigfried knows how to experiment with tradition. That's a championship trait.
BASS WORLD (MAGAZINE OF THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY OF BASSISTS)
Karl E. H. Seigfried's stomping-ground is Chicago, the land of electric blues and the AACM (be sure to google this acronym if you don't yet know its place in Jazz History). His biography features collaborations with prominent musicians from an incredible array of genres--not only jazz and classical, but also indie rock, country, bluegrass, "space rock", and something called "sludge metal." One would imagine, then, that his compositions would cover a lot of stylistic ground. Indeed, he makes music the way a good DJ spins vinyl, harvesting elements from history and putting them together in new ways. But the result is beautiful and deep, never aloof or cynical. This is exactly the kind of jazz I like to listen to: virtuosic, groovy, interactive, purposeful, and clear. The level of playing is consistently high, and the small-group setting, with the notable lack of a chordal instrument, gives everybody plenty of space to explore. The thrust and structure of the tunes, while seemingly open-ended, have the strength to keep everything from slipping into incomprehensibility. (+)
The three pieces of "The Boxing Bassist Suite" find common ground between the two brutal yet elegant worlds of pro boxing and jazz. (Boxing must be important to Dr. Seigfried, as he writes on boxing for www.eastsideboxing.com.) Each is dedicated to a champion boxer who also happened to be an accomplished bassist. The title cut sets the tone for the entire album: a beautifully off-kilter and funky New Orleans-tinged head, a catchy yet spooky mixed-meter hand-clap hocket (with really nice bass slap work on the bridge), bookends straight-ahead solo sections. Dr. Seigfried's sound is big and round, evocative of the old-school big-sound players from generations ago. Slap also features prominently on "The Old Mongoose" (a tribute to boxer/bassist Archie Moore), a sort of proto-"I Got Rhythm" Dixie rant; "Ezzard" (for Ezzard Charles) takes an old gospel groove as a stepping-off point.
The other tunes included on this disc are also dedicated to Chicago musical figures obviously significant to Seigfried. "Up from Mississippi," written for the memory of AACM bass lion Malachi Favors, is a straight-up blues. The recurring shuffle riff on "Revolver" (for venerated Chicago jazz club The Velvet Lounge) shows that these guys also listen to rock and roll. "Spheroid" (for Monk), overlays some killer bass slap New Orleans funk (including a dirty blues guitar line overdubbed by Seigfried himself) with minor key swing solo choruses. "Accessibility" (Jimmy Cheatham) is a comfortable ballad, the sort of tune Dexter Gordon would play, but with a definite post-Monk expressive AACM vibe. Ward and Rosaly interpret the tunes beautifully throughout this disc, matching the bassist/composer's style, spirit and virtuosity. I look forward to hearing more powerful tunes, deep grooves, and great playing from Karl Seigfried.
BASS FRONTIERS MAGAZINE
Jazz and boxing may not seem to have much in common at first glance, but after some comparison, the two reflect many similar principles. Both jazz bassists and boxers alike spend hours upon hours sharpening the finer points of their technique so it can be used instinctively during performance. Each must be able to adapt and respond quickly to their fellow performer. In addition, personal style and charisma are common traits for both the fighter and musician. (+)
With his latest release, Portrait of Jack Johnson, Chicago bassist (guitarist, composer, bandleader and educator) Karl E. H. Seigfried offers an interesting idea for a compilation by paying tribute to three renowned boxers who were also bassists. Seigfried is joined by two other major players in the Chicago Jazz scene, Greg Ward (alto sax) and Frank Rosaly (drums).
The album is made up of two sections. The first being "The Boxing Bassist Suite," which features musical tributes to boxers/bassists Jack Johnson, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles. The second, "Portraits in Jazz," is dedicated to several of Seigfried's predecessors. The title track paints a musical picture of the "Galveston Giant" Jack Johnson, who was the first African-American world heavyweight champion in 1908.
Johnson was known to grace the stage at his Chicago nightclub Café de Champion from time to time and play for the patrons. Second in the line-up is "The Old Mongoose" Archie Moore, who holds the record for the most career knockouts (131). A few of Moore's friends included jazz musicians Oscar Pettiford and tenor/soprano saxophonist Lucky Thompson. Heavyweight champ (1949-1951) Ezzard "Cincinnati Cobra" Charles rounds out "The Boxing Bassist Suite" with a song titled, simply, "Ezzard." The New York Times once wrote that "Ezz slaps it and bows it with the best of ‘em."
The second section of the CD, "Portraits in Jazz," consists of eight more original pieces from Seigfried that pay homage to seven of the jazz world's heavyweights and one of Chicago's best-known clubs, The Velvet Lounge. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, The Velvet Lounge's website states "The Velvet is closed until further notice."
Regardless of one's knowledge of jazz music or the Sweet Science, Portrait of Jack Johnson is a great, approachable collection of original works combined with a unique and interesting storyline from an all-star Chicago trio.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ MAGAZINE
Boxing and jazz don't seem like a natural fit, but the two disciplines share ideals at their cores. Both thrive on the unexpected and live as poetry in motion. Jazz musicians and boxers both work hard and long, spending hours and hours honing their skills so that they can be used in a spontaneous fashion when they are thrown into action, and both value individual form, grace and power as part of individual expression. In a nutshell, jazz and boxing are closer than most people think. Trumpeter Miles Davis spent plenty of time working out in the ring and, likewise, some notable boxers have enjoyed musical pursuits. (+)
Bassist Karl E. H. Seigfried pays tribute to three such boxers on Portrait of Jack Johnson. "The Boxing Bassist Suite," featuring musical tributes to Johnson, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles, along with eight music-related tribute tracks – under the banner of "Portraits In Jazz" – give Seigfried a chance to show off a wide-range of music performed by his pliant trio. Seigfried has been a steady presence on the Chicago music scene, working in classical settings, avant-garde groupings and rock-leaning projects, and these experiences all play a part in this group's unique sound.
Seigfried is joined by alto saxophonist Greg Ward and drummer Frank Rosaly who seem to be highly attuned to Seigfried's rhythmically evolving compositions. Ward's sound is inherently soulful, regardless of the setting, and this is immediately recognizable on "Portrait of Jack Johnson." The song begins with an offbeat hand clap/hi-hat pattern built into the music – in a pianist Dave Brubeck-meets-modern jazz kind of way – but Ward takes over when the music moves to a more streamlined swing feel. Rosaly's tom-dominated solo here has a Max Roach sound to it and his playing has a natural snap in it, adding sparks to the overall sound of the piece. "The Old Mongoose" – which was also Archie Moore's nickname – features some thumping bass and New Orleans-inspired drumming at the top. All three men are jubilant and bouncy in their deliveries and Ward spits out some explosively fast, darting lines.
Seigfried's "Portraits in Jazz" pay tribute to Chicago institutions such as the late saxophonist Fred Anderson ("Mr. Anderson") and his club (The Velvet Lounge), along with music mavericks (Roswell Rudd) and jazz giants like soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet ("Treat It Gentle"). Seigfried paid respects to Malachi Favors – legendary bassist with The Art Ensemble of Chicago – with an entire suite on Criminal Mastermind (Imaginary Chicago Records, 2006), and his fondness for the bassist has resulted in another nod here, in the form of "Up From Mississippi." The trio gets deep into the blues on this track, one of the most satisfying pieces on the album.
In addition to bass, Seigfried overdubs some guitar work on "Spheroid." Guitar and saxophone work through the head of the piece – with insistent bass lines and some second line-like drumming beneath – before the rhythm shifts to a rock feel and then a swing section. Seigfried's bass solo is captivating and he demonstrates his more-than-capable skills on guitar with this one. "Accessibility," dedicated to Jimmy Cheatham, is the epitome of cool. Ward's woozy, sleepy lines saunter around Seigfried's hip bass work and Rosaly knows to keep it simple, with minimal percussive fuss here. "Rosminah" – Seigfried's tribute to pianist Mary Lou Williams – is in complete contrast with the previous track and proves to be another album highlight. Ward delivers some wonderfully frenzied saxophone playing and Rosaly spurs him on as both men keep pushing and driving, leaving Seigfried to hold it all together.
With Portrait of Jack Johnson, Karl E. H. Seigfried has managed to pay tribute to some key figures in boxing and music, while creating some songs that can be appreciated by a wide range of jazz fans, regardless of the extent of their pugilistic knowledge.
Bassist-composer Karl E. H. Seigfried joins fellow Chicagoans Greg Ward on alto sax and Frank Rosaly on drums in this freewheeling piano-less trio. The opening three-movement suite is dedicated to world-champion boxers who also played upright bass in their spare time: Jack Johnson, Archie Moore and Ezzard Charles. Equally inspired are portraits of jazz notables Malachi Favors, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Roswell Rudd and Fred Anderson. On the jaunty title track, the bassist alternately slaps his upright in Pops Foster fashion and lays down deep walking tones beneath Ward's fluid alto work—think Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman. The second-line groover "The Old Mongoose" (for Moore), shuffling "Ezzard" and earthy 12-bar blues "Up From Mississippi" (for Favors) are fueled by the bassist's humungous tones. And "Mr. Anderson" is Seigfried's moving, unaccompanied homage to the late Chicago saxophonist and scene-builder.
DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS: MUSICAL PICK OF THE SEASON
Have you ever ordered a meal on a whim and been so utterly delighted by it that you find yourself craving the sensation long after the experience? Well, that is how I felt after attending the debut performance of Karl Seigfried's latest musical project, Portrait of Jack Johnson.
I formed my own favorable impression of the tall, thin, unassuming yet approachable Chicago-area native when we talked following his performance. I was pleased to discover Seigfried not only heads up an extraordinary jazz trio, but he also writes for a boxing magazine, East Side Boxing. (+)
It turns out the ring-sport is just one of the touch points of the African-American experience that fascinates Seigfried; music is another. I discovered Seigfried holds a doctorate in Double Bass Performance, and his treatise on Wilbur Ware is the only scholarly work on the African-American Chicago bassist. Such discoveries were wonderful treats following an extraordinary feast that was the debut performance of Portrait of Jack Johnson. Jack Johnson was the legendary boxer who reigned as the world heavyweight champion from 1908 to 1915 – a time when black men were supposed to know their place in society.
The August debut of Seigfried's latest project followed centennial celebrations of the epic battle between Jack Johnson, the then reigning heavyweight champion, and his rival, Jim Jeffries, who came out of retirement to reclaim the title for a nation eager to see the crown returned to a white boxer. That contest, billed as The Fight of the Century, took place in Reno, Nevada on July 4, 1910. Given the historic portent of the event, the spectacular victory by Johnson and the subsequent backlash, I was eager to discover how Seigfried would honor Johnson.
As it happens, Seigfried's work is not the first time Johnson has been honored with song. Several years ago, Miles Davis composed his own musical salute to the former champion; and when an artist of Davis' caliber devotes an entire body of work to one individual, you know that individual is or was extraordinary. Seigfried is not yet as celebrated as Davis, but his musical tribute is no less inspirational or noteworthy.
Seigfried’s composition evokes much of the creativity, confidence and physical prowess displayed throughout Johnson's career and life. Seigfried mixes in just enough attitude, unconventionality and sass to remind the listener that Johnson was no angel. His rhythms and riffs reflect the heavyweight’s masculinity and skill, while the melodies underscore the complexities of a life that was at once commanding and heartbreaking. As the Chicago trio played, I sat in my chair amazed and delighted that Seigfried has released a worthy tribute during the centennial of Johnson's most historic victory. The trio next performed compositions honoring two other boxing champions, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore. Moore is a light-heavyweight champion (1952–59, 1961) who continues to hold the record for the most career knockouts at 131.
After completing the musical tributes to the boxers, the trio then performed a series of compositions honoring jazz artists who have influenced Seigfried's own creative development, including the legendary Thelonious Monk.
All of the music Seigfried performed that night is included on Portrait of Jack Johnson. It is an important work that is both flavorful and satisfying. I am pleased to feature Seigfried's newest CD as my musical pick of the season.
CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE
On the stimulating new disc Portrait of Jack Johnson, bassist and guitarist Karl E. H. Seigfried interprets eleven of his own compositions, each inspired by a musical influence. For this effort he has recruited two of the most original musicians in Chicago: altoist Greg Ward and drummer Frank Rosaly.
The opening three pieces make up "The Boxing Bassist Suite" dedicated to three legendary boxers who were also bassists. The title track is a jaunty tune, not unlike the fast but graceful footwork of a fighter in the ring, and is followed by "The Old Mongoose," a laid back funky groove like a boxer’s swagger. The last movement is a bluesy composition with the right amount of edginess to make it delightfully unique. (+)
The rest of the album is eight tribute pieces starting off with a bass-anchored tune dedicated to Malachi Favors that has one foot in the blues and another in free jazz. Each of the others also have elements reminiscent of the dedicatee. For example, "Spheroid" is peppered by the angular sounds that typified Thelonious Monk’s work; "Revolver" recreates both the intimate atmosphere and the creative forward thinking music of the Velvet Lounge; and "Treat It Gentle" is a modern day retelling of a Sidney Bechet musical tale with Ward’s alto sax sounding much like Bechet’s soprano backed by Seigfried’s guitar, picked like a banjo.
Greg Ward’s improvisations are edgy, far reaching yet intensely melodic with a hint of atonality. Frank Rosaly’s intense and deliciously dark drumming, both in group and solo playing, transforms the drums from traditional rhythm-keeper to an active member of a three-way conversation. Seigfried’s improvisations are meandering, complex and thought provoking like a long yet engaging works of poetry. This is especially showcased on "Mr. Anderson," where his bass solo is reminiscent of the tenor saxophone solos Fred Anderson used to take, both in its expansiveness and intensity. This is a CD that is as varied and as colorful as the people to whom it is dedicated, and the high level of musicianship paints an exciting and unique portrait of its creators.
JAZZGRAM (MAGAZINE OF THE JAZZ INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO)
Karl Seigfried's MySpace page suggests that he is not stuck in a stylistic rut. Besides his swell free jazz trio with David Boykin and Mike Reed there's gigs with the Chicago Sinfonietta, a country-rock combo called the Lost Cartographers, and a Motorhead session. But Seigfried also knows how to dig deep into a topic, and while this record divides neatly into two parts that pay homage to different sides of his personal jazz iconography, they are united by the imperative to swing. (+)
"The Boxing Bassist Suite" is a three-part celebration of boxers (Seigfried also writes boxing commentary for the website East Side Boxing) Jack Johnson, Archie Moore, and Ezzard Charles, all of whom also slapped the bull fiddle. If we take the music as a literal expression of what Seigfried thinks about his subjects, the title tune’s intricate handclap overdubs, Greg Ward’s pungent alto saxophone melody, and Frank Rosaly’s delightfully intricate drumming portray Johnson as a man of soul, agility, and eloquence. The rest of the suite is similarly gentle.
After that comes "Portraits in Jazz," a selection of eight compositions that pay tribute to such diverse figures as Fred Anderson and Mary Lou Williams. Tribute does not mean replication; although "Spheroid" honors Thelonious Monk, the tart theme that Seigfried plays on electric guitar (oh, he does that too) sounds not the least bit Monkish. Neither does Ward’s solo, but it’s a great one, dizzying in its intricacy. Seigfried’s extended solo at the beginning does summon some of the gravity that centered Fred Anderson’s music. Portrait of Jack Johnson is a thoroughly amiable affair.
On Portrait of Jack Johnson, veteran Chicago jazz bassist/guitarist Karl E. H. Seigfried creates original instrumentals that deftly explore traditional and avant garde jazz. The 11 tracks are divided between "The Boxing Bassist Suite" – a tribute to boxers who were also musicians – and "Portraits in Jazz," a tip of the hat to the great jazz artists he's played with over the years.
Jazz and the modern sport of boxing are products of the 20th century, Seigfried says, whose development dovetails with the racial tensions of the times. "America's fundamental racial arguments are present in jazz," he says, "and boxing, to me, is America's racial arguments made physical." (+)
The title track, "Portrait of Jack Johnson," is part of "The Boxing Bassist Suite." In the public television documentary, Unforgivable Blackness, filmmaker Ken Burns told the story of Johnson's boxing dominance in the early 1900s, his scandals and how white America yearned for a "Great White Hope" to put him in his place.
Seigfried picks up the history with an odd, unpredictable melody where every bar has a different time signature, something more common in classical music than jazz. In the bridge, the bass and drums play in 4/4 time while the sax plays 5/4 time.
"Metaphorically, it fits Jack Johnson, who was totally unpredictable," he says. The melody doesn't fit the rhythm, he adds, and Johnson didn't fit into the rhythm of racism of his time.
Seigfried tried to capture the life and times of boxers Moore and Charles in his music. He mixed old and new jazz bass techniques in "The Old Mongoose" in a musical portrait of Moore's strutting pride and wily defensive techniques in the ring. For Charles, he turned to the stylish, cool jazz and hard bop.
Seigfried's career integrates musical genres and erases musical boundaries. Considering his resume, an ode to boxing bassists isn't unusual at all.
Greg Ward, the expatriate Chicagoan in from New York to appear with Tortoise, will stay in town at least through Friday night to perform in another context – the CD-release celebration of the new album by polymath bassist Karl E.H. Seigfried, entitled Portrait of Jack Johnson. This is a good thing, seeing as Ward plays such an important part in Seigfried's spunky, sparky, and wholly delightful album. (+)
The boxer Jack Johnson – the first black man to hold the heavyweight crown, and a potent symbol of African-American liberation – is no stranger to jazz, having inspired one of Miles Davis’s most famous and impactful albums. But he’s just one of the three 20th-century pugilists honored by Seigfried in his album-opening "Boxing Bassist Suite." And that title is more than whimsy.
As Seigfried points out, all three - Johnson, Archie Moore, and Ezzard Charles – also played bass; that makes them mirror images of Seigfried himself, who primarily plays bass (but also guitar) but also trained in the squared circle (and writes for the publication East Side Boxing). He looks the part, and his trio plays with the same spare muscularity and lithe power.
Ward takes the lead, his lines full of jabs and hooks, while drummer Frank Rosaly girds and colors the music with his trademark musical intellect. Seigfried has plenty of chops as well, but his style depends more on his love of his instrument’s history, from the Swing Era to the present: fiddle slaps of the 30s vie with cool-earth melodies of the 50s in his playing, while his leadership of a pianoless trio speaks to more recent developments.
Seigfried wrote all the compositions, which comprise tributes to other musicians, such figures as trombonist Roswell Rudd and the late Fred Anderson- cameo gems in a valuable new collection.
After years of playing in and leading ensembles, Seigfried steps forward on his own with an album of solo bass music. The ten tracks run from Delta blues to Gregorian plainchant to open soundscapes to hip hop intensity to speaking in tongues to a séance with the spirit of Charles Mingus. Featured is a tribute to Malachi Favors, written on the passing of the Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist (the last three tracks of the CD make up "The Malachi Favors Suite").
Praise for Criminal Mastermind:
BASS WORLD (MAGAZINE OF THE INT'L SOCIETY OF BASSISTS)
Karl E. H. Seigfried is a very talented bassist with a lot to say, musically speaking. Criminal Mastermind is his recording of (largely) free pieces for solo double bass. His technical prowess is great, and musically he is rich with compelling ideas. (+)
The opening salvo is titled "Beneath the Underdog." This pizzicato ode to Charles Mingus is cool and bluesy--in addition to the Charles Mingus influence present here, I also detected shades of Bert Turetzy, so was not at all surprised to learn that Seigfried had studied with Turetzky. Seigfried follows this with "Mass Builder," which shows off his arco playing and his deep, rich sound, especially in the low register. This cut is characterized by great sweeping sounds, in and out of ponticello.
Throughout the album, Seigfried provides sonic and timbral variety by mixing up arco and pizzicato, as well as adding other colors by employing techniques such as ponticello, col legno, slapping the strings, and knocking on the body of the bass, to name a few. Additionally, he frequently utilizes double-stops, chords, and melodies over an open string drone, which serve to give texture and depth to this solo project, and are executed with enviable intonation. His musical influences, as heard in his playing, are many and varied: the listener will detect styles such as jazz, classical, old guitar-based rural blues (think Robert Johnson), perhaps even traditional Japanese music.
Each piece on this CD offeres the listener a different character to get to know. From the somber-toned tome titled "Today," to "Hypnotize Minds," with its emphasis on rhythm, to the final three pieces that make up Seigfried's "Malachi Favors Suite," there is a chance to hear the bassist exploring, reaching, and offering his findings.
Seigfried has played and taught bass in virtually all musical styles - from classical to avant garde jazz. Criminal Mastermind reveals a first-rate improvising bass player with great chops, a penetrating sound, and some very interesting ideas. He also knows how to tell a story – the fact that Criminal Mastermind sustained my interest throughout its nearly 70 minute duration is saying quite a bit. (+)
The pieces are not all that abstract. Seigfried likes to muscle the bass around as if it were a large acoustic guitar. Folk-like themes crop up, and the blues is palpable even during Seigfried’s most edgy improvisations. He is fond of arco bass and uses the bow frequently, often switching back and forth between the fingers and the horsehair at crucial moments during his improvisations. He uses a wooden dowel to hit and bow the strings on "Ambient" and "Hypnotize Minds," generating some fascinating and unexpected timbres. "Ambient" also captures police sirens and a ringing cell phone in the background.
I came away from Criminal Mastermind impressed – both with Seigfried’s talent as a bassist and an improvisor. Karl E. H. Seigfried is definitely a musician to watch and a huge asset to the already ultra-deep Chicago jazz scene.
This is a thoughtful and enjoyable contribution to the genre of the solo bass recital. Seigfried's activities span the classical and Jazz spheres, as well as many other fields, and they all come into play here: listen, for instance, to the heavy rock pieces "Ambient" and "Hypnotize Minds," where the bassist uses a col legno attack to mimic an electric-bass-and-drums onslaught. Most of the pieces, though, are aching folk-Blues melismas, in which Seigfried is never in a hurry to obscure the basic key centre. The results are like a virtuosic elaboration of the work of Charlie Haden, bedded in a stately, stoical beauty but yielding at times to giddy flurries of ornamentation. The standout performance is the three-part "Malachi Favors Suite," which begins with a hard-swinging Blues and ends with a squall of arco lines and a wild pizzicato coda. The bassist's honesty and musicality shine through, and that's enough to make this album worth hearing.
JAZZ ‘N’ MORE (SWITZERLAND): FOURSTAR REVIEW
Criminal Mastermind is [Seigfried's] technically-stupendous solo-showcase of the contrabass as a melody-, rhythm- and sound-instrument. In contrast to very high-pitched avant-gardists such as (for instance) Barry Guy, he remains rooted in deep layers. In "Beneath the Underdog," he begins with powerful Mingus-pizzicato; he displays his sonority as string-player in "Mass Builder" and his drum-technique with the back of the bow in the bluesy "Ambient." The great connoisseur of the Chicago AACM concludes with the three-part "Malachi Favors Suite," with improvisations from down-home blues to an impressive combination of advanced bass techniques.
DOUBLE BASSIST MAGAZINE (ENGLAND)
Seigfried is a well-known double bassist in the Chicago improv scene and his work here is of a solo improvised nature. Despite limiting himself to one instrument, one bow and four strings, he offers many approaches to ten improvised pieces. His sound is big and round and he is an accomplished arco player, although he uses the bow sparingly here. While one can tell this is a live recording, the sound of the bass isn't compromised: both arco and pizzicato, fundamental and harmonic are well defined. (+)
The final three pieces comprise "The Malachi Favors Suite" and are the most focused of the recording: the Delta blues in "Up from Mississippi," seven minutes of various bowing techniques in "Ancient to the Future," and some well-placed angst in "I Am the Host." It’s all in loving dedication to fellow Chicagoan and bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut. For those interested in solo improvised bass, this is a keeper.
ALL MUSIC GUIDE: FOUR-STAR REVIEW
Don't be fooled by the title: Karl E.H. Seigfried's Criminal Mastermind is not gangsta rap. There are no guest appearances by Snoop Dogg on this album; nor are Dr. Dre, Master P or Mobb Deep anywhere to be found. The focus of Criminal Mastermind is avant-garde jazz—specifically, avant-garde jazz of the AACM variety, which is appropriate because Seigfried is based in Chicago. Seigfried does something very brave on this live recording: he plays unaccompanied acoustic solo bass. (+)
The words "unaccompanied acoustic solo bass" have a way of frightening and intimidating the more casual, less adventurous jazz listeners; it takes a truly hardcore jazz lover—someone with a genuinely deep appreciation of jazz—to not be scared away by the prospect of an acoustic bassist playing without any piano, drums, guitar or horns whatsoever, especially when the jazz in question is avant-garde. And for the true jazz lover, Criminal Mastermind is a compelling listen. Sometimes, Seigfried plays with a bow; other times, he plucks. But either way, Criminal Mastermind shows him to be a very expressive improviser who has a lot on his mind. Seigfried is not avant-garde in a harsh, confrontational, dense way; in true AACM fashion, he uses space effectively and plays material that is reflective and contemplative rather than totally in your face. Some avant-garde jazz is downright ferocious and—like a lot of death metal, techno and metalcore—proudly adheres to a scorched earth policy. But the artists of Chicago's AACM have generally been people who, for all their abstraction and free-form dialogue, did not view outside improvisation as an exercise in merciless brutality—and Seigfried clearly identifies with that mindset on these rewarding solo bass performances.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ MAGAZINE
Up and coming Chicago bassist Karl E.H. Seigfried isn't a household name in jazz circles, though he's gigged with some notable players. So it must have taken some guts to release a solo album. Here he displays an enviable technique and a well articulated musical vision. Whether implementing creaky arco lines or tapping and thumping his acoustic bass strings, Seigfried pays close attention to resonance and contrast. He projects a vivid sense of isolation when working through the lower registers, and keeps the surprise element alive by tossing in unanticipated treatments along the way. He ends the set with a three-part suite dedicated to the late, great Chicago bassist Malachi Favors.
Seigfried here does one of the ultimate high-wire acts: an entire album of solo acoustic bass. Very few players even try this. There's a reason why, for instance, classical composers never really wrote for solo bass unlike, say, solo cello. And very few jazz bassists have ever done this either. It's inherently hard making the bass not a background instrument for extended lengths of time. The free improv possibilities enlarge the possibilities and the palette more, though. And Seigfried come off pretty well. "Beneath the Underdog" is a nicely propulsive tip of the hat to the master Mingus, and "Mass Builder" essays existential bleakness without boring you, which isn't easy to do. "Ambient" makes for a brainy sort of funk, and the pluckfest "Hypnotize Minds" is also a success. This record will appeal to very adventurous jazz and most free improv fans both, but there's somewhat more appeal for the free music crowd. It makes you wonder if the old guys were missing something by not writing solo works for this instrument.
The title and cover of this one might make you think that Karl's going for a hardcore hip hop sound, but the record is completely different altogether--an album of solo bass work by Seigfried, played in an array of spare styles that seem to draw equal inspiration from the work of Malachi Favors and Arthur Russell. The Favors influence is clear here on the 3-part "Malachi Favors Suite"--a great extended number that has Karl playing in round, warm, spaciously creative tones that remind us of Favors at his most soulful. The Russell reference is perhaps one that we hear ourselves--but it's definitely there on some of the other tunes, which seem to echo out with a rhythmic impulse that reminds us of Arthur's spare solo sides from the mid 80s. Together, the tracks all have a freshly creative approach that shows a new side of the Chicago creative tradition.