Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues
Corky Siegel’s Traveling Chamber Blues Show!
Alligator
2005
A-



this is about as far from a Stylus record as it gets, but I’m hoping that this will find a place in our little website magazine anyway, because it’s the strangest and most ambitious record of 2005.

Corky Siegel is a harmonica player and singer. His band contains a percussionist (the great Frank Donaldson, who relies mostly on tablas), and a string quartet. It’s blues music that is also classical music that is also world music. This project started back in the 1960s, when the Siegal-Schwall Blues Band collaborated with Seizi Ojawa…but I’m guessing you don’t care about that, and it’s not relevant anyway. I was just a toddler, and you probably weren’t born yet.

It’s a live album, with tracks recorded in such musical hotspots as Chautauqua, New York, and Green Lake, Wisconsin, as well as Siegel’s home town of Chicago. The songs are mostly long, twisty-turny things that either function as harmonica sonatas or strange third-wave fusion compositions. Sometimes Siegel sings, in a high reedy youthful voice; sometimes no one sings, and sometimes they have a special guest singer (old Siegel-Schwall buddy Rollo Radford on “Train”).

But no matter what the configuration, these songs are always fascinating. “Opus 17.2” is a semi-hoedown, with the violin players turning into fiddlers to back Siegel’s blues honkings, then switching back at a moment’s notice to pull off a Mozart-ish breakdown. “Serenade” has Siegel starting on piano, blasting portentous chords to frame the first half’s Dvorak-like Romany lament, then grabbing the harmonica when the string players get all pizzicato and funky on us.

It’s strangely thrilling to hear a piece like “Five Planets in Harmonic Convergence,” which starts out as a ramshackle jam, picks up long modal lines, and then comes back to pick up the first section—I keep thinking I should be able to reject it out of hand, because it’s corny, but my heart is not made of stone, and my ears are not made of cloth. There is a lot of genius here, and it’s laid on as thick as high-school makeup.

“Manhattan Island,” which manages to turn our most cosmopolitan place into a Gilligan scenario, is truly unsettling; “The Woofy Girl Stroll,” with its lazy sexy shuffle fueled by Jill Kaeding’s cello, is pure joy, especially when Siegel grabs the mic to tell us about how they’re doing this dance all around the world. Which is a lie, but I don’t mind. Lies like this are okay with me. Lies sometimes are just dreams that haven’t come true yet.


Reviewed by: Matt Cibula
Reviewed on: 2005-04-05
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