John Geggie / Josh Rager / Paul Meyers: Ottawa, Canada November 28, 2009
Geggie Concert Series: 2009-10, #3
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
November 28, 2009
For the third in his 2009-10 Geggie Concert Series, Ottawa bassist John Geggie once again demonstrated his astute ability to bring together musicians who have not previously played together, but who share enough common ground thatwith minimum rehearsalsound as though they'd been band mates for years.
Pianist Josh Rager is a young, up-and-coming Montreal-based pianist, whose most recent release, Time and Again (Effendi, 2008), received considerable attention in Canada and was picked, by The Ottawa Citizen's Peter Hum, as one of the year's best. His performance at the 2009 Ottawa Jazz Festival, opening for Maria Schneider, was an equally compelling set of post-bop, and here he proved himself an inventive player with open ears and quick reflexes. Over the course of two sets, he demonstrated a focused, motivic-based approach to soloing, where ideas were explored and twisted every which way, ultimately leading to new ones that resulted in solos of near-perfect construction. "Waltz for Jung," his unaccompanied solo during the first set (the first of three, each featuring a different member of the trio), demonstrated a firm but elegant touch, and a compelling ability to blend light travels into the abstract with more lithe and direct voicings.
Guitarist Paul Meyers is a more seasoned performer who's been on the New York scene for 30 years, but has been picking up steam in the last 20. With a sizable discography including his recent World on a String (Miles High, 2009), he's collaborated with a wide variety of artists including pianists Geri Allen, Kenny Barron and Eliane Elias, bassists Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez and Rufus Reid, and singers Jon Hendricks and Andy Bey. A rarity in his exclusive devotion to nylon-string acoustic guitar, at least one reference point has to be the late Charlie Byrd, given Meyers' predilection for Latin music. But his reach is much broader, as his soloa remarkable interpretation of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood"demonstrated. Filled with enough impressive technique to keep the guitarists in the audience scratching their heads, Meyers never sacrificed substance for style, and with remarkable command of his instrument, Meyers transcended some of its apparent limitations, in particular playing surprisingly percussively at times, with visceral lines of both horizontal and vertical approach.
Geggie's solo spot, which opened the second set, was a personal look at bassist Dave Holland's "Homecoming," originally recorded with his 1980s quintet and by his collaborative Gateway Trio with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Like these earlier versions, Geggie used its memorable head as a jumping off point for greater free play, but there was still a context around which Geggie moved. His improvisations within a group context have been evolving over the years, but this rare solo performance demonstrated the same confidence that makes his two overdue debuts as leadersGeggie Project (Ambiances Magnétiques, 2009), with pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Nick Fraser, and Across the Sky (Plunge, 2009), with Fraser, pianist Nancy Walker and saxophonist Donny McCaslinall the more welcome.
Collectively, the trio worked its way through a mix of originals and standards, including an uncharacteristically buoyant reading of William Walton's enduring "Touch Her Soft Lips and Part," while Geggie's "From Which" and "Septième Arrondisement," from the first set, swung amiably. Myer's "So Danco Samba," which ended the second set, was most closely aligned to Meyers' Latin-esque work as a solo artist, while Rager's "Train to Lindau," fit firmly in the mainstream, with a lyrical arco melody played by Geggie.
Overall, it was an easygoing evening of largely straight-ahead jazz played by a trio that, without a drummer, came closer to a chamber jazz aesthetic even as it swung with authority on Jimmy Giuffre's blues, "Happy Man." An appreciative and near capacity audience clearly fed off the positive vibes that were circulating around the trio, with everyone clearly enjoying themselves. With a series that travels across so many areas of jazz, it's great to see a trio that, as ever unassuming and direct, bringing fresh takes to standards like "Nobody Else But Me" and delivering original material that was both compelling and memorable.