John Abercrombie / John Menegon / Chet and Jim Doxas: Ottawa, Canada, September 18, 2010
Menegon, best-known for his work with two now-departed and almost diametrically opposed saxophone greats in the latter parts of their careersDewey Redman, and David "Fathead" Newman, whose swan song, The Blessing (HighNote, 2010) came out earlier this yearwas, perhaps, the biggest surprise of the evening, if only because of an audience familiar with Abercrombie (for obvious reasons), and with the Montreal-based Doxas brothers, because of their regular Ottawa appearances in a variety of contexts, together and alone. With a robust tone that supported deep, resonant low notes as much as it did lither excursions in the instrument's upper register, Menegon created both a pliant and unshakable foundation, and an equal extemporaneous partner who, as much as anyone else in the quartet, pushed and pulled the music to new and unexpected places.
Jim Doxas, whose most visible gig is with legendary Canadian pianist Oliver Jones, remains something of a hidden Canadian treasure. A drummer as charismatic to watch as he is to hearso visibly engaged in the music, and as content to create a pulse with nothing more than a spare bass drum as he is with an inherently elastic dexterity and thorough command of every timbral and melodic nuance available from his drums and cymbals. While his various trade-off exchanges with Abercrombie and/or Chet were impressive, and his rare full solos even more so, it was his complete and committed interaction with the group that was his greatest, most definitive strength. Few drummers in Canada (or elsewhere, for that matter), can match Jim's set of ears, or his almost puckish playfulness, a characteristic shared with brother Chet, the two exchanging a lot of knowing smiles throughout the evening. If there's a drummer to whom Doxas can be compared, it's the more well-known Brian Blade. Not that the two share much in terms of personal style, but both approach their instrument beyond purely rhythmic terms; instead, both think on broader, musical terms, and share a common bond of absolute freedom within the confines of compositional form.
A characteristic that, in fact, was in great abundance at Café Paradiso on September 18, 2010. Abercrombie may have been playing with a bad back that was clearly bothering him between sets, but you'd never have known it once he was onstage playing. The fourth night of a five-night run that ended the following evening in Montreal, it was a brand-new quartet, having never played together before its two nights at The Rex in Toronto a couple nights prior. By the time they hit Ottawa, Abercrombie, Menegon, and Chet and Jim Doxas were already well in stride; the good news is that the Montreal gig was recorded for broadcast on CBC Radio, and filmed for a possible DVD release. The empathy and invention shared by this group is simply too good to go undocumented.
All Photos: John R. Fowler