John Geggie / Mark Duggan / Quinsin Nachoff / Ravi Naimpally: May 12, 2007
Geggie Concert Series
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
May 12, 2007
Billed as "A Creative Fusion from Toronto, the final show in Ottawa bassist John Geggie's 2006/2007 Geggie Concert Series may not have had the name-recognition cachet of earlier shows this year with guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Billy Hart. But by bringing together an unusual group of multi-disciplinary instrumentalistssaxophonist/clarinetist Quinsin Nachoff, vibraphonist Mark Duggan and tablaist Ravi Naimpallyit's certainly one of the most innovative shows of the seasonor any season, for that matter. One can always expect the unexpected from Geggie, and this concert of all-original material presented its own set of challenges for the quartet and the full house in attendance.
It's one thing to bring material to a performance and know that it can and will be significantly transformed by the players involved. But the majority of the material here was written for this specific group in mind, leveraging off its inherent aural personality. What may be the most remarkable aspect is that, while each artist has his own compositional and playing style, a unified whole was created by bringing these four specific players together. The result was a combination that transcended individual stylistic differences; creating, instead, a very distinct sound that married sometimes ethereal textures with compelling grooves, challenging yet engaging melodies and imaginative improvisation.
Nachoff is a rising star on the Canadian scene. As inventive a writer as he is a performer, his Magic Numbers (Songlines, 2006) brought together a sax-bass-drums trio and string quartet for a series of compositions that blurred the lines between form and freedom. The three fresh compositions brought to this groupas yet untitled and, consequently simply called "#1, "#2 and "#3ranged from the contrapuntally complex to episodically buoyant. The introduction to the dark-hued "#3, blended Geggie's arco with Duggan, who created a synchronous texture by bowing the keys of his vibes.
While the structure of Nachoff's materialthe entire evening, for that mattermeant that there was little in the way of "without a safety net free improvisation that is often the earmark of Geggie shows, there was no shortage of risk-taking or interaction. That a group as short-lived as this could interact on so many levels was clearly felt by the audience, making even the most abstract of ideas palatable. Nachoff stayed largely with higher register instrumentssoprano saxophone and clarinetbut brought out his bass clarinet towards the end of the second set, again changing the complexion of the group.
Nachoff's technique, like that of his band mates', is a means to an end. That he's engaged in circular breathing doesn't stand out until one realizes just how long he's been playing without a breath. Capable of cascading layers and spare melodies, he sometimes builds solos on gradually evolving motifs that are ultimately transformed beyond recognition.
A contemporary percussionist as comfortable with Gamelan as he is classical composition and improvised music, Duggan's Vuja Dé group, which brings together modern jazz concepts with a variety of Latin traditions, finds him focused on the vibraphone's wooden cousin, the marimba. The layout may be the same, but the textures are not, making it necessary to approach the two instruments with a considerably altered mindset. Watching Duggan perform, it's clear that there's consideration behind every note, even when there's an "in the zone improvisational élan taking place.
What distinguishes Duggan's playing on an instrument that, relative to other instruments in jazz, is somewhat rare, is the attention he pays to dynamics. It's hard to imagine that a mallet instrument can breathe, but in Duggan's hands it does. He also makes great use of the sometimes subtle, other times more overt differences that result from the different mallets that lend the instrument a range from soft ambience to more percussive edge.
Duggan's writing is as broad-reaching as Nachoff's, but in a different way. "Slippery Slope bears some similarity to Nachoff's occasionally abstruse approach, but "Sambaiosis is, as the title suggests, a sambaalbeit one of a very different kind. While the Brazilian vibe was unassailable, the feel of the tune, with tabla driving the rhythm, was unique. The groove was there, with Naimpally using the different areas on the tablas' heads to emulate Latin percussion as he played the familiar rhythms. It was precisely this philosophy of adapting known musical styles to non-conventional instruments that gave the group one aspect of its individuality.
Naimpally's writing, while less complex than that of Duggan and Nachoff, had its own charm. The groove of "Twilight which opened the showmay have been insistently pursued by the tablaist and Geggie, but its oblique melody fit right in with what was to come. The lyrical simplicity of "Bhija, on the other hand, provided a foundation for one of the most moving tunes of the evening with its folk-like changes. It also found Naimpally, during the open-ended intro, playing the tables in unexpected ways that demonstrated that his own reach goes far beyond the North Indian tradition that is at the core of his work, a stylistic breadth that infuses work with his own group, Tasa.
Geggie contributed two compositionsthe quirky "Watching the Wax Melt and the idiosyncratic stops and starts of "Skip Step. If anything can be said about this season's series, it's that the bassist has made significant leaps in both his writing and playing. Always an intuitive and supportive player, he's become a far more forceful soloist. He's raised his own bar significantly this year, making anticipation for next year's series all the stronger.
While all the shows in this 2006/2007 season have had things to recommend, this final performance was special because of its unique sonics and the way that all the material blended together to give the group a unified voice. One of the downsides of Geggie performances is that once they're over, the chances of them happening again are slim. With Geggie in Ottawa and Duggan, Nachoff and Naimpally in Toronto (a short 250 miles away), this is a group that has the potential of becoming an ongoing project.
Certainly the distinct nature of this group was not lost on the audiences, who wanted an encore but were denied because there simply was no more material. One can only hope that this group will not only continue to perform on occasion, but will also consider recording. The same way that groups like Oregon are as distinctive for their sound as the music they play, so too does this "Creative Fusion from Toronto have the potential to introduce a winning combination of writing, improvisation and sound that deserves to be heard by more than the 175 people in attendance at the Ottawa show.