April 4, 2004
First the bad news. Veteran Ottawa bassist/composer/educator John Geggie, whose ongoing series of musical collaborations called “No Boundaries” has been deservingly successful for its sense of daring and invention, had planned a series of duets with Swedish bass legend Anders Jormin. Unfortunately, at the last minute, Jormin had to pull out because of a broken elbow.
The good news is that the break isn’t serious, and Jormin has already committed to honouring his commitment for the next season of “No Boundaries,” so fans who were eager to see two talented bass players collaborate for an evening of challenging and exploratory improvisation will get their chance next year.
Even better news. When faced with a booked hall, sold tickets and, well, just an overwhelming desire to play , Geggie managed to recruit, on short notice, another Canadian veteran, saxophonist Mike Murley. With his own bands, cooperatives with artists including guitarist David Occhipinti and the award-winning fusion band Metalwood, plus countless guest appearances, Murley is unquestionably one of the country’s leading improvisers. Rounding out the bill was young Montreal drummer Jim Doxas. While Geggie had played previously with Murley and Doxas on separate occasions, this was the first time the three had played together, and one can only hope that the success of the evening will cause them to think about doing it more often.
Opening with the Monk classic, “Monk’s Dream,” the trio set the ground rules for the evening. While Murley let loose with the theme, Geggie and Doxas played loose with the time, threatening, but never quite breaking into a swing for an almost interminable period. When they finally broke into a swing the audience almost breathed a collective sigh of relief as the tension was broken. This would, in fact, be something of an M.O. for the evening. Geggie and Doxas, while capable of laying down a steady groove, just as often broke things up, with Doxas demonstrating a style that combined the time sense of Roy Haynes, the creativity of Jorge Rossy and the slap-happy sense of humour of Joey Baron.
Murley’s “Creature of Habit” was characterized by a melody that, with its broad intervals, would be difficult to sing yet was memorable nonetheless. The trio demonstrated a remarkable sense of dynamics; building things to Doxas’ solo over an ostinato figure that was suitably intense.
Geggie’s “Across the Sky” was a dark and brooding tone poem which highlighted Murley’s personal tone. It’s a relief to hear a player of Murley’s vintage not be directly referential to the post-Coltrane, Michael Brecker school of sound. Murley’s sound is substantive but not as robust as Brecker’s, rich with a subtle vibrato. Geggie’s solo demonstrated a number of interesting techniques, including alternating resounding low tones with harmonic stops and chordal passages reminiscent of Charlie Haden.
Murley’s “Nest of the Loon,” a clever reference to “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” was the most traditional sounding piece of the first set. Doxas and Murley were in synch in a way that was all the more surprising considering they had not previously played together. Murley’s curved soprano tone was pure, avoiding the nasally sound too often associated with the instrument.
The trio finished off the first set with the standard “Summer Night,” demonstrating how, in a chord-less trio, Geggie could imply harmonies with the most subtle changes. And while the tune swung harder than anything so far, it also highlighted one of trio’s most notable skills, to imply time without any individual actually playing it. Doxas took a solo that revolved around straight eights on the right hand, with remarkable polyrhythms coming from his left.
Opening the second set with Geggie’s “The Eyes are Worth a Thousand Words,” a minor blues, Doxas built the tune from light brushwork to more aggressive stick work. Once again the trio showed empathic communication, admirable dynamics and terrific time.
Introducing the standard, “Golden Earings,” with a beautiful bowed bass, Geggie further demonstrated his musical breadth. Everyone took solos that seemed to be the perfect length; long enough to develop a story without becoming superfluous.
Geggie’s “Runaway Sheep” was the most abstruse tune of the evening, with an oblique melody that alternated between 3/4 and 4/4 time. An exercise in group interplay, with each member sometimes leading, sometimes following, Doxus was especially notable for his melodically inventive solo.
The group finished the night off with an exercise in contrast, from the traditional approach of the standard “Never Let Me Go” to the freewheeling Carla Bley staple, “Syndrome,” where the theme was used as a jumping off point for each member’s free and standalone solo. Every solo demonstrated how the barest sketch of an idea can provide substantial source material for exploratory verve.
A well-deserved encore saw the group return to more standard territory, taking the heat down a notch after the sheer intensity of the set closer. Throughout the evening, regardless of the material, the trio showed that true improvisational spirit is about a sense of adventure that treats roots with some reverence, but is coupled with an in the moment inventiveness that expands on them, always searching for something new. Kudos to John Geggie for bringing this fine series to Ottawa and for having the good sense to realize that, in a town where live music is sometimes considered a secondary market, there is both a place and demand for high calibre jazz.
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