John Geggie, Donny McCaslin & Jim Doxas at The Fourth Stage, Ottawa, Canada
While the trio gave the audience the occasional moment to catch their breath, they were few and far between. With a repertoire consisting of original compositions by McCaslin and Geggie, along with a couple of standards thrown in that were so loosely interpreted as to ultimately be almost unrecognizable, the sheer power of the trio was palpable. And the three players shared the kind of instantaneous simpatico that most groups dream of. The interplay was so rich that, at times, it was difficult to tell who was leading and who was following. But, in the final analysis, that's exactly the kind of empathic interaction that makes the best jazz so exciting. When one has the chance to hear three players so clearly in tune with each other that collective motifs seem to mysteriously appear out of the ether, only to dissolve and move on to other territories, that's the kind of magic that keeps the tradition alive. Even at their most free, Geggie, McCaslin and Doxas were so in synch that their liberated exchanges felt imbued with a clear sense of purpose, rather than just being a cacophony of sounds.
To discuss individual solos is pointless. Each player demonstrated the kind of focus and intention that made their individual contributions both sing and dance. McCaslin seemed to draw from an almost endless source of inspiration, making each solo different and yet indicative of consistent musical philosophy. Geggie went from richly lyrical to abstruse, sometimes within the space of a few bars. And Doxas found ways to enrich, with punctuations that always made sense and were never musical non sequiturs. That, in the midst of a McCaslin solo for example, Geggie and Doxas were able to diverge and converge at will, playing loosely with the time and then somehow coming together into a locked-in groove, made for a memorable evening of improvisation at the highest level.
Ottawa audiences, who attended the Acoustic Hard Cell show earlier in the week and then the Geggie/McCaslin/Doxas performance, were treated to two different views of improvisation. As free as Acoustic Hard Cell could become, Berne's idiosyncratic and somehow mathematically-precise compositions lent a structure that gave a centre to the proceedings. The compositions of Geggie and McCaslin were less rigidly structured, but provided equal opportunities for free play and unencumbered exploration.
Some groups work for years to develop a distinctive group sound, but within the short course of a few days John Geggie, Donny McCaslin and Jim Doxas found common ground that created a unique and immediate chemistry. Leaving the audience exhausted but satisfied, this was a performance that will not soon be forgotten, unquestionably a highlight of the 2005 jazz season in Ottawa.