John Geggie / Kenji Omae / Dave Restivo / Mark McLean in Ottawa
Geggie Concert Series
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
January 26, 2008
For the latest concert in John Geggie's invitational series, the keyword was melody.
Starting with the first extended, flowing solo from tenor saxophonist Kenji Omae, and the equally tuneful response from pianist Dave Restivo, it was clear this concert would not be full of jagged edges. Instead, it was a conversation, alternating between the intricate rhythms from John Geggie's bass and Mark McLean's drums, and the warm melodic lines from Omae and Restivo.
But musical conversation is the aim of these concerts, and more than just small talk. Geggie invites musicians who he thinks might work well together, but who have generally not played together. They each contribute songs: in this concert, they ranged from McLean's bouncy, sassy pieces to Restivo's more romantic ones. With only a short time to rehearse and with musicians coming from Toronto, New York, and Korea this gave considerable freshness to the music, as well as a few times when the musicians' eyes seemed to be glued to their music.
The first three numbers all followed a standard pattern: a brief syncopated introduction, a fast, but always connected, solo from Omae, a sparkling answer by Restivo, short interventions by Geggie and McLean, and then Omae's recapitulation of the theme. Omae wrote the first piece, "Time Management" (from his album Here for Now (Kang & Music, 2007)); echoing its title, it bopped along perfectly in control and knowing exactly where it was going, with Omae's complex sax line floating on top of the other instruments.
"A Waltz to Begin With," by drummer Mark McLean, did indeed start out as a slow waltz on piano and sax, enhanced by McLean's delicate brushing on the cymbals, but ended as a quieter, more melancholy lament. The next song was announced as the standard "It's You or No One," but a fan of the Doris Day number would have hardly recognized it, aside from a few scattered bars. Instead, the musicians used it as an opportunity to explore oscillations of intensity: drumsticks crashing, the sax growling, treble notes cascading on the piano, finally ending with a brief restatement of the melody.
The highlight of the first set was Restivo's "New One." That song would have fit perfectly into the score of Michel Legrand's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: a Proustian song of melancholy longing with an evocative melody. The duet between sax and piano, enhanced by barely-there percussion and bass, ended with lengthening notes slowly fading out, but leaving the audience wanting to hear it again.
The musicians then got a completely different challenge: Geggie's "Scatterbrain Drain," which worked against the others' natural styles. Starting out with ominous bass notes, it developed into a rhythmic fantasia that kept stopping and changing directions, climaxing in a loud flurry, and then, with a glance from Omae to Restivo, abruptly stopping,
The second set opened with Omae's new ballad, "Not So Deep," which belied its name by starting off with a rich, deep sax solo over repeated bass figures, although the later piano solo was exactly the opposite: quick and sparkly. Next came McLean's "Rum and Coke," a straight-ahead bop piece and a clear crowd-pleaser with a rollicking rhythm. It was such a happy piece that even Geggie, who rarely shows emotion while playing, actually cracked a smile partway through. It was followed by "Draft," another piece from Omae's Here for Now CD, whose primary feature was Omae's slow, haunting sax line, the other players filling in the texture underneath, until Restivo took over the same theme on piano.
The concert ended with another piece by Restivo called "Subway Muse," inspired by the many hours that he has ridden the subway around his home town of Toronto. You could initially hear the rhythm of the rails in the bass rhythm on the piano. The piano continued to provide that undercurrent in both bass and treble, as Omae explored the melody on the sax. He occasionally dissolving the melody into growls or flurries of notes, and finally came back with a slow, smoky, swirling extro, ending with another bass growl.
The concert was a homecoming for Omae, who first became interested in jazz while in high school in Ottawa, but who is now a full-time professor of saxophone at a college in Seoul, South Korea. He was certainly the most obvious focus of the music, unrolling long ribbons of music and then twirling and shaking them into complicated forms. Yet he was equally well matched by Restivo, McLean and Geggie: each of them showed a considerable dynamic and stylistic range and meshed together beautifully to produce rich and varied music.
The show was recorded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for eventual broadcast on Canada Live on CBC Radio 2. It may also later be available at CBC Concerts Archive. No broadcast date has been set yet.