John Geggie/Craig Taborn, Ottawa, Canada, October 7, 2006
Geggie Concert Series 06>07
Fourth Stage, National Arts Centre
October 7, 2006
You know you're doing something right when the venue that sponsors your annual series bumps you from five to six concerts. Ottawa-based bassist John Geggie has, over the past few years and a number of different-named series, brought a wealth of stylistic diversity to the cityin many ways, keeping its hit-and-miss jazz scene alive throughout the year. Artists ranging from bassist Mark Dresser to pianists Bill Carrothers, Myra Melford and Marilyn Crispell have all made the trek to Ottawasometimes in the middle of its harsh winterto put on shows that represent the truest definition of jazz without a safety net. Minimal rehearsal time often means that, while Geggie has a pretty good idea of what to expect, the sound of surprise that keeps bringing audiences back every year is one that he and his musical collaborators are just as likely to hear.
Geggie's first show for the 2006/07 season, labeled "A Little Avant-GardeVery Musical," was aptly titled and as good an example of his ability to mold into any musical setting as any. Craig Tabornthe ubiquitous keyboardist whose encyclopedic knowledge has made him a perfect fit for artists including saxophonists David Binney, Tim Berne, Chris Potter and Roscoe Mitchell, trumpeter Dave Douglas and violist Mat Manericame to town packing some of his electronics but, when presented with a mammoth hybrid Steinway grand, the two decided to go acoustic. While it might have been interesting to hear what the pair would have done in an improvising setting with greater textural possibilities, it wasn't missed in the least.
Geggie's shows have always been a mix of his own material and that of his invited guests, but this performance was notable for being weighted more heavily in favor of his compositionssome familiar, others new. Starting the first set with his "Run Away Sheep," Geggie's opening solo also demonstrated some recent additions to his collection of extended techniques. When Taborn entered for its theme, defined by all kinds of stops and starts, the fact that they'd had only one rehearsal and a short sound check made the duo's tightness all the more remarkable. The communication was at a high level, with both players pushing and pulling, leading and/or following as the moment demanded. A solo in the middle of the tune found Geggie gradually breaking down into greater abstraction, but equally purposefully finding his way back to its tightly arranged theme.
Taborn's "Dry" started with a freely improvised piano solo but Taborn, time and again, demonstrates that free doesn't mean lacking in purpose. As strong as his technique is something that became more and more apparent as the show progressedTaborn's also a master of dynamics. His ability to play at almost a whisper but then shift into more jagged, Cecil Taylor-like density and power, contributed to making evening's multifaceted unpredictability. Critics often write about pianist Brad Mehldau's remarkable left/right hand independence, but Taborn's another whose ambidexterity allows him to transcend the more conventional roles of each hand.
Geggie has played "Across the Sky" at many of his shows, but it simply demonstrates just how much a composition can be shaped by those who play it. Hauntingly beautiful, it's not so much a ballad as a tone poem, with a slowly unfolding and lyrical melody. Taborn has rarely sounded this fragile or vulnerable.
One wonders, after seeing Taborn in this context, with Roscoe Mitchell at the 2005 Ottawa International Jazz Festival and in the winter of 2005 with Tim Berne's Acoustic Hard Cell, why he's a player treasured by so many musicians but less-so the larger listening public. Perhaps it's his very versatility that, in some ways works against him with audiences who are looking for a more singular style to hang their hat on, but it's what also makes him such a compelling player to hear, regardless of the context.
And while most think of Taborn as associated with more left-of-center music, compositions like "American Landscape," one of a number culled from Light Made Lighter (Thirsty Ear, 2001) demonstrate that he's no stranger to the tradition, with hints of Earl Hines peeking through every now and again.
Both Geggie and Taborn are players who also appreciate the value of space and economy. Geggie's opening song of the second set, "Tierre Arrondissement," bore a distinctive Ralph Towner-esque vibe, ending on a pedal tone that was, like much of the evening, a naturally occurring event.
That Taborn and Geggie could start with one composition, dissolve into free improv and find their way to another with so little rehearsal speaks volumes about their abilities individually and collectivelyto listen and respond. A new composition from Geggie called "Cancon" was a jagged piece that found Taborn at his most abstract of the evening, playing around a motif that acted like a fulcrum, balancing the music that shifted constantly around it.
The lyrical classicism of Geggie's "I Want More" featured Geggie's warm arco, and almost Satie-like simplicity from Taborn. But, like so many other points in the evening, it devolved into pure free play, segueing into Taborn's riff-based "Bodies We Came Out Of," before finishing, again, on a skewed but more traditional note.
The only shame about this performanceone that set an early bar high for the entire season, was that it was only about two-thirds full. Like the Berne concert in 2005, all that means is that the opening show in Geggie's new season will be one talked about with regret by those who failed to make it out.
The rest of the shows in Geggie's 2006/07 season are equally intriguing:
November 18, 2006: "Compelling Contemporary Jazz" with Montreal alto saxophonist Christine Jensen and New York pianist Gary Versace;
January 20, 2007: "Quintessential Voices from Ottawa" featuring alto saxophonist Hughie O'Conner, guitarist Roddy Elias and trombonist/pianist Mark Ferguson;
February 24, 2007: "Legendary Jazz Evening" with New York drummer Billy Hart and Toronto pianist Nancy Walker;
March 24, 2007: "New Sounds and New Directions," featuring New York guitarist Ben Monder and Vancouver percussionist Dylan van der Schyff; and
May 12, 2007: "A Creative Fusion from Toronto with tenor saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff, tablaist Ravi Naimpally and vibraphonist Mark Duggan.
Based on Geggie's show with Taborn, it's going to be a good year.
Visit John Geggie on the web.
"5 Shades of Geggie" Closes with Bill Carrothers and Nick Fraser (Concert Review, 2006)
John Geggie & Mark Dresser at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (Concert Review, 2005)
John Geggie, Donny McCaslin & Jim Doxas at The Fourth Stage, Ottawa, Canada (Concert Review, 2005)
John Geggie/Sunna Gunnlaugs/Justin Haynes Ottawa, Canada May 22, 2004 (Concert Review, 2004)
John Geggie, 'No Boundaries' Series with Mike Murley and Jim Doxas (Concert Review, 2004)