John Geggie / Edward Simon / Jim Doxas: Ottawa, Canada June 13, 2009

John Kelman By

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John GeggieJohn Geggie/Edward Simon/Jim Doxas
Geggie Concert Series: 2008-09, #8
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Ottawa, Canada
June 13, 2009

It's been a banner year for John Geggie's Geggie Concert Series at the intimate Fourth Stage in Ottawa, Canada's National Arts Centre. With guitarist Vic Juris heating the room up at the bassist's February, 2009 performance, it's hard to imagine another show—although every show in the series is a winner—where the interaction, chemistry and sheer invention could be at such a high level. But with pianist Edward Simon coming to town to participate in four days of work with Geggie and Montreal drummer Jim Doxas, a small but immensely satisfied audience was treated to an evening of music that balanced head and heart, complex arrangement and barely structured free play, and ultimately proved simply one of the finest piano trio shows in Ottawa in recent years.

Simon, whose star has been steadily rising through his ongoing collaborations with saxophonist David BinneyOcéanos (Criss Cross, 2007) and a string of increasingly fine solo releases, including Unicity (Cam Jazz, 2006)—came to Ottawa as part of a collaboration with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, which was sponsoring, in the Centre's opera-sized Southam Hall, two evenings of music by classical composers who were influenced by jazz, among them Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. After each performance, Simon, Geggie and Doxas performed a single set at the Fourth Stage, flipping the emphasis by providing a view of classical music from a jazz perspective—though far distanced from "jazzing up the classics" shtick.

The trio then played an evening in Montreal before returning to Ottawa for a full evening's performance on June 13, two sets of music composed or arranged by Simon and Geggie. The two sets of extended takes drew heavily from Unicity ("Abiding Unicity," "In the Midst of Chaos" and "Pathless Path"), in addition to an imaginative reworking of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and the title track of Simon's Poesia (Cam Jazz, 2009), set for release on June 30. As ever, Simon writes tough charts that, in the right hands, still manage to feel both effortless and just plain feel.

Simon's touch is one of the most elegant of his generation. While his technique is flawless—and watching him play only affirms his remarkable virtuosity—it's less on immanent display; instead, it's at the service of solos filled with motivic invention. Few pianists construct with such near-perfect narrative as Simon, who finds ways to create such compelling solos that it's a mystery why he's not yet made that leap into the same contemporary jazz zeitgeist as Brad Mehldau. He has the rare ability to yield completely to a song's stark simplicity, as was the case with Geggie's lovely arrangement of William Walton's "Touch Her Soft Lips and Part," yet delve into more idiosyncratic but still focused ideation on tunes like "Abiding Unicity," which moved episodically through a broad dynamic and temporal range.

Edward SimonGeggie—who contributed only one composition to the night's musical proceedings, the relatively new and quirkily constructed "Canon," continues to play with increasing confidence and stylistic markers that are giving him the true voice that he lacked only a few short years ago. He's always been a terrific journeyman musician, capable of fitting into any context—be it classical, jazz or otherwise—but the past couple of years have seen a remarkable evolution that—while inarguably partly due to the company he keeps and the musical diversity he creates for his concert series—is really a confluence of a number of factors. Some musicians grow gradually, and Geggie has certainly done that, proving as comfortable milking a single note ostinato on "Pathless Path" as he was delivering a poignant arco on "Abiding Unicity" or producing fervent pizzicato on "Giant Steps." Speaking of which, some musicians also make great leaps, and Geggie has also done that in recent years, becoming far more an equal partner in the projects he puts together than a reliable rhythm section member.

Simon's most recent albums have been trio dates with two of jazz's most ubiquitous, in-demand players—bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. Geggie's choice of Doxas for this date—not, by any means, the first time he's recruited the drummer—couldn't have been better. It's no hyperbole to suggest that Doxas may well be the best drummer in Canada this side of Terry Clarke, and a player who—if there's any justice—would, like Geggie, receive the greater international exposure he so clearly deserves.

But more than that, while playing nothing like him, Doxas is the closest equivalent Canada has to Blade. With the same kind of undivided attention to his trio mates, Doxas demonstrated the same ability—despite being able to swing hard and directly when necessary—to imply pulse without actually playing it. He's a loose and interpretive player for whom there's little, if anything, that's sacred. While clearly respectful of the tradition, he uses virtually every part of his kit—his cymbal work is especially notable, as is his somewhat humorous jiggling around when he's got a belt of chimes wrapped around him—in a manner that serves as a broad textural palette for the trio. Also like Blade, Doxas is a kinetic drummer who is almost impossible not to watch: not a scene-stealer but a player whose fresh and personal approach imbues even the most structured material with the all-important sound of surprise that makes for an outstanding performance by all involved.

John Geggie / Edward Simon / Jim Doxas l:r: Edward Simon, John Geggie, Jim Doxas

It's Ottawa's good fortune to have a player like Geggie around to create some of the city's most vibrant and creative jazz, along the broadest possible continuum. There are so many shows that have been high points for his ongoing series (which will resume with eight shows planned for next season)—among them those with Juris, trumpeter Cuong Vu from 2008, bassist Mark Dresser from 2005, and pianists Bill Carrothers and Craig Taborn from 2006. Geggie's season closer with Simon and Doxas unequivocally joins the ranks as one of his finest and most inspired projects.

Visit John Geggie and Edward Simon on the web.

Photo Credit

John R. Fowler

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