Dressed all in black, shaped by a smart blazer, a smiling John Gilbreath addressed a crowd before a performance during last year’s Earshot Jazz Festival. In brief, the executive director of the now-25-year-old festival spelled out the institutionalized state of jazz in this city.
“Being involved in the overall jazz community here in Seattle, you get a sense of the continuum of the thing in seeing the younger artists coming up through the education programs and going on to secondary education and coming out of the scene and becoming journey people and teaching other artists,” he said, cheeks slightly flushed beneath his wire frames. “But occasionally it seems that some really brilliant artists just kind of pop up on the scene. For me and for some of us, that’s absolutely been the case with these two artists.”
Those two artists were saxophonist Kate Olson and trombonist Naomi Siegel, who together form the elliptical improvisational jazz duo Syrinx Effect. Though certainly not unschooled, the duo did appear unexpectedly; Siegel moved here in 2008 after studying at Oberlin, and Olson arrived after receiving a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. More to Gilbreath’s point, though, the duo delivers something fresh to Seattle audiences. Utilizing looping, distortion pedals, and a laptop, the two women create varied landscapes of sound—forests, skylines, desolate plains—populated with sympathetic voices, their instruments bending and slashing to achieve an expressiveness usually reserved for strings. Listening to the interplay between the two voices—the deep, sometimes booming trombone and the bright, chirping saxophone—feels like listening in on a casual, humorous, at times salacious conversation. The duo’s tone is highlighted by its style, which is quite the opposite of Gilbreath’s nightclub duds. Most often wearing jeans and T-shirts, the two women look more likely to be headed to the coast than to the shores of sonic transcendence. It’s a perfect fit in a genre where sartorial style punctuates; these artists are playful, unpredictable, and, most important, just plain interesting.
For those wary of cloistered jazz, Olson and Siegel are a great antidote; their inclusion in Earshot last year and again this year signals as great a promise for the festival—and this city’s jazz scene—as a room full of brass-wielding tykes ever could. With the Naomi Siegel Quartet. Chapel Performance Space. 8 p.m. $5–$15. MARK BAUMGARTEN