Album Reviews

Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues

Different Voices

Artist:     Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues

Album:     Different Voices

Label:     Dawnserly

Release Date:     04/07/2017


I was unaware of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues projects until now, though I went to college near Chicago and we often played the discs and saw the Siegel-Schwall Band perform live. A brief history: In 1973 the Siegel-Schwall Band released Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra on the classical Deutsche Grammophon label. Two principals emerged from the project: jazz trombonist and composer William Russo and famed conductor Seiji Ozawa, who had been a long-time fan of the Siegel-Schwall Band. These two, mostly Ozawa, encouraged harmonicist Siegel to move in this direction, resulting in the first Chamber Blues ensemble recording on Alligator in 1994. Two other recordings followed and this is the fourth. So much for the history lesson—let’s get to the music. Google can take care of the rest.

First, you have to admire the concept that lends itself to cute little phrases like “Muddy meets Mozart” or “A bluesman and a classical string quartet walk into a bar.” Yet, this project goes beyond even the seemingly polar opposites of blues and classical, as Siegel invited blues legend Sam Lay, Grammy-winning jazz saxophonist Ernie Watts, Indian table master Sandeep Das, and R&B Singer Marcy Levey (who sings her hit “Lay Down Sally” composed with Eric Clapton), indie singer-songwriter Matthew Santos, and Chicago’s folk trio, Song of the Never Wrong. Not only do we have blues and classical music but jazz, world, gospel, R&B, and smatterings of folk herein – hence the title. The breadth and layers of this project are so stunning that I can’t recall hearing anything like this.

The first cut, “Missing Persons Blues – Op.26” features Ernie Watts and is a mash-up of blues, classical and jazz. “Time Will Tell Overture –Op, 25” features the table of Sandeep Das. Siegel takes the lead vocal on several tracks but is more than willing to share the spotlight with his guests. Santos takes the lead vocal on “One” and again on his own composition “Shadows in a Shoe Box.” Sons of the Never Wrong deliver innovatively on “I’ll Fly Away” with Deb Lader adding sparking mandolin: and Sam Lay takes his turn as well on the next piece. Siegel describes it, “”Italian Shuffle’ is based on the Chicago Blues style shuffle but you would swear it comes from Tuscany, not Chicago. And you can tell we surprised the heck out of blues legend Sam Lay, who responds by singing the classic ‘Flip, Flop and Fly.’ If there is a theme that has followed me from my first gig at Pepper’s and through this project it is this joy of diversity and togetherness that has enriched and shaped my life. The culmination of all this is reflected in the song ‘One,’ where we look out at the world and see we are all intimately connected.”

The packaging and liner notes are exquisitely detailed with lyrics provided. One little capsule that caught my attention was Siegel’s nod to these four major influencers: Maestro Seiji Ozawa, William Russo, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. There are some select dates, mostly in the Great Lakes states, where you can hear this unit perform with some of the special guests. Unless you’ve heard Siegel and Chamber Blues before, you really do have to hear this to believe it.

—Jim Hynes

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