THE NEW QUARTET
Imaginary Chicago Records 003
Karl E. H. Seigfried, bass & guitar
Greg Ward, saxophones & flute
Carmel Raz, violin
Chris Avgerin, drums & percussion
The New Quartet brings together four exceptional performers with greatly varied backgrounds to create works that cross musical boundaries and find common ground between different world music traditions. Peoria saxophonist & flutist Greg Ward is a sideman with some of Chicago’s straight-ahead jazz masters. Israeli violinist Carmel Raz is an experienced chamber musician and soloist in the European classical tradition. The Chicago rhythm section of bassist & guitarist Karl E. H. Seigfried and drummer & percussionist Chris Avgerin anchors many groups on the cutting of edge of both jazz and rock in the city.
From the liner notes to BLUE RHIZOME by composer Karl E. H. Seigfried:
The composition of this piece was inspired by a crisis of faith. Not religious faith, but faith in humanity. 150 years from now, it is guaranteed that everyone now alive will be in the ground or consumed by flames. There will be no exceptions. All our efforts, dreams, and hopes will end as all biographies must.
In these few years that we have of consciousness and life, we divide ourselves into tribes. Our choice of friends, lovers, and colleagues is based on comfort with what we see as members of our own group. Ethnicity, race, religion, culture, and nationality are used as an excuse to shut out love, new experiences, challenges to our habits, and expansion of our experiences. The Other is judged and the Like is embraced, whether consciously or not.
The movement titles of BLUE RHIZOME plot the psychological trajectory of the piece. "The Blue & the Black" reflects the sadness and despair of those wandering between tribes. A retreat into the "Fortress of Solitude" leads to a meditation on the transitory nature of life in "We Will All Become Ash." The possibility of finding common ground manifests in "Gopalnath," named for the great Carnatic saxophonist from India. "Destroy All Monsters" represents the anger that can grow out of sadness, whether the Monster is racism, sexism, or the Snake That Encircles the World. "A Distant Beauty" raises the glimmer of hope that we may find kindred spirits across tribal lines. This hope reaches its final expression in the idea that "Sometimes, There Is Love."
Musically, the piece is one continuous work divided into nine movements. The overture introduces themes stated and developed in tracks 3, 5, 6, & 7. The interludes are non-thematic and are based on time (groove) structures; each features a different member of the group.
This piece reflects my love for several different musical traditions: jazz, rock, hip hop, Carnatic music, and New Music (among others). I make no claim to write in these traditions authentically. Everything is filtered through my impressions of these musics and the performers’ interpretation of my ideas. In exploring these different musical languages, I heard the Blues running through all of them like a root--a BLUE RHIZOME.
Review from THE IMPROVISOR:
A varied document this, encompassing Celtic-tinged jazz, jazz rock, hard rock and a couple of pastoral pieces where Raz shines. All the group members are very strong. Recommended to jazz fans bored by conventional jazz categories.
Review from ILLINOIS ENTERTAINER MAGAZINE:
It’s almost impossible to believe, but Blue Rhizome (Imaginary Chicago) was recorded live in one continuous take. The New Quartet expertly and seamlessly glides through avant-garde and jazz fusion (”Fortress Of Solitude”), some thick, caramelized blues (”Interlude: The Blue & The Black”), and some crunchy rock (”Destroy All Monsters”). The improvisational precision is crisp, and balance of musical styles provides a complex lushness. The New Quartet delivers a virtuoso performance so stunning in concept and execution, it must be heard to be believed.
Review from CADENCE MAGAZINE:
From Chicago comes yet another collective filled with imagination and purpose. Blue Rhizome invokes a mixture of Jazz, Rock, Improv, and Chamber musics. Inspired by the challenges of life, Seigfried uses the "Overture" to to announce recurring themes with a decidedly Folk tinge, with "Underture" summing up what has come before. As a technique, Seigfried uses various connecting interludes that focus on groove and feature each player. The instrumental standout is Ward, an underappreciated force in Chicago, though one gaining increased notice, who shines on "Interlude I: The Blue & The Black." Raz is also impressive on pieces like the understated "A Distant Beauty." Seigfried takes a shot as well on the joyous ditty, "Interlude III: Sometimes, There Is Love."
Review from AUFABWEGEN MAGAZIN (Germany):
Angeführt vom Bassisten Karl E.H. Seigfried spielt das New Quartet aus Chicago eine sehr emotional aufgeladene Form des Jazz. Ausgehend von einer regelrechten Gefühlskrise reflektieren die Stücke auf Blue Rhizome die verschiedenen Stadien der Betrübtheit, welches aus dem Wissen um die Endlichkeit des menschlichen Lebens entstanden ist. Ein grosses Thema des Albums auch in musikalischer Hinsicht ist das Überschreiten von Grenzen und das Hinterfragen der eigenen Werturteile. So rückt dieses recht nüchtern präsentierte Werk in seiner stilistischen Offenheit und tänzelnden Schwermut in die Nähe der Post-Rock-Produktionen aus dem Hause Constellation, auch wenn man es in keinem Plattenladen unter “Indie” finden wird. Echte Empfehlung für Offenherzige!
Review from ALL ABOUT JAZZ MAGAZINE:
While it is etymologically implied that the avant-garde looks ahead, being the vanguard of musical development, composer and guitarist Karl E.H. Seigfried and his New Quartet emphasize the many traditions that melt together in the creation of new music. Siegfried's idea of the avant-garde is not that of a radically new beginning, but rather a refined net of traditions with the blues being the primary influence on his musical language. Thus, he chose to name the album Blue Rhizome, thereby underlining the intertwined nature of the music while still paying homage to the blues.
Blue Rhizome is a single composition divided into nine movements, each with its own title, and they reflect Seigfried's refined musical language where jazz, folklore, metal, rock and blues meet to create a singular world of sound.
The opening "Overture" begins with Carmel Raz's moaning violin and Greg Ward's elegiac saxophone recalling Albert Ayler's gospel marches, before settling into a bouncing groove.
"Destroy All Monsters," on the other hand, is an infernal heavy metal hymn showcasing the tight interplay between Siegfried and drummer Chris Avgerin. Part of the idea of this music is to embody different stages of knowledge and emotion, and "Destroy All Monsters," with its aggressive guitar work and hard rhythms, represents the anger that can grow out of apathy.
As a work, Blue Rhizome addresses major existential issues such as death ("We Will All Become Ash") and love ("Sometimes, There Is Love"). The music shifts between full-blown ensemble playing and naked soliloquies, thus reflecting the shifting conditions of human life: from life in social tribes to sole reflections on mortality.
Blue Rhizome is an ambitious effort, but its greatest success is in bringing its many threads together—thematically, as well as musically. What it all boils down to is the ancient cry of the human soul that is also heard in the blues: a cry for freedom that can't be bound. It's a freedom that is mimicked in the work of Blue Rhizome—that of breaking all musical chains while still being rooted in tradition.
Review from CHICAGO WEEKLY:
“Don’t you listen to a single word against rock ‘n roll. The new religion, the electric church, the only way to go,” sang Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead in the 1986 song “Built For Speed.” A Motörhead fan wearing long hair, a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, and frayed jeans, the young Karl E. H. Seigfried must have appeared a true follower. Seigfried, who would later become a prolific, genre-defying Chicago musician working in and beyond the jazz, rock, and classical idioms, taught himself to play the electric bass in high school, inspired by bands like Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, and Deep Purple.
Influenced by Charles Mingus and Paul Chambers, Seigfried picked up the double bass in his twenties and developed his jazz playing under the tutelage of Bertram Turetzky, George Lewis, and Jimmy Cheatam at the University of California, San Diego. At the time, Seigfried’s jazz band was full of California surfers who didn’t care about jazz but needed a venue for their electric guitar playing. Charles MacPherson, Jr., subbing one day for George Lewis as the instructor of Seigfried’s improvisation class, heard the rock styling in the band members’ improvisations and instructed them to take a break from rock n’ roll for five or ten years. They needed to immerse themselves in jazz to learn its language. Seigfried took this advice to heart: he put away his rock T-shirts, and got a haircut.
A Master’s Degree and a doctorate in classical double bass performance later, Seigfried is unwilling to so limit himself to a single musical language. A highly active Chicago musician, he plays across a wide range of genres, from classical, to noise, to jazz. Seigfried’s most recent project, the New Quartet, combines jazz, contemporary classical music, rock, and Carnatic music, a tradition of classical music from the south of India. The New Quartet will be performing at the Velvet Lounge on Saturday, May 31st, in celebration of the release of their album “Blue Rhizome” on Imaginary Chicago Records. In addition to Seigfried, who plays bass and electric guitar on the album, the New Quartet consists of saxophonist and flautist Greg Ward, violinist Carmel Raz, and drummer Chris Avergin. On Saturday, the New Quartet’s performance will be followed by a set by Soul Power Trio, who will play heavy metal reinterpretations of the material on “Blue Rhizome.” Another of Seigfried’s many projects, Soul Power Trio features Seigfried on electric guitar, Avergin on drums, and Aaron Getsug on electric bass.
“The composition of this piece was inspired by a crisis of faith. Not religious faith, faith in humanity,” begins a brief essay Seigfried wrote for the “Blue Rhizome” liner notes. He observes that humanity, by way of “ethnicity, race, religion, culture, and nationality,” divides itself into tribes. These divisions narrow humanity’s world view and shut out new, potentially enlightening experiences. The New Quartet’s blending of seemingly disparate genres of music provides an example of cross-tribal synthesis. Seigfried relates this idea to self-segregation within the Chicago jazz community. Chicago’s major jazz organizations, the largely African-American Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Asian Improv Arts, and the European-American-oriented Umbrella Music are generally divided along racial lines. Seigfried believes that one of the most important things he can do as a musician is to assemble diverse musical ensembles. To him, the beauty of the United States of America is that diverse people can come together to make something new. Seeing a diverse group of musicians working together on stage has the potential to make a powerful and progressive emotional impression on the audience, encouraging them to reach beyond their own tribal boundaries.
In recent years, Seigfried has observed an increasing number of Chicago musicians who, like the performers in the New Quartet, are committed to breaking down tribal divisions. Difficult to pigeonhole into any one style or genre, these diverse musicians constitute what Seigfried calls the “New Chicago Sound.” They are versed in many styles of music and blend styles effortlessly. While the wide exposure to music afforded by the Internet has made genre blending common, contributors to the “New Chicago Sound” differ from many genre benders in their respect for tradition. They digest the styles they perform completely, and harbor great respect for their histories. As a result, the music they perform is organic and coherent to the novice and the aficionado alike.