John Geggie / Vic Juris / John Fraboni: Ottawa, Canada Feb. 28, 2009

John Kelman By

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John Geggie / Vic Juris / John Fraboni
Geggie Concert Series 08/09, #4
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Ottawa, Canada
February 28, 2009

It's all too rare that a musician of Vic Juris' caliber comes to town. Returning to Ottawa as part of bassist John Geggie's annual Geggie Concert Series following his April, 2008 date with saxophonist Dave Liebman at Café Paradiso, it was a rare opportunity to hear a top-tier guitarist who, by all rights, should be as well-known as contemporaries like John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Pat Metheny. That there are hints of all these guitarists in Juris' playing—even as his own seemingly endless technical array makes every solo a fresh experience—only bolsters evidence of the guitarist's voracious listening and encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz...and beyond.

"I want to hear some John Bonham here," he joked with drummer John Fraboni during the sound check. Such a small, passing statement among the many ideas that were flying about during the hour-long sound check, but a telling one. Juris may be a jazz guitarist first and foremost, but his ears are huge and he's just as apt to make a brief reggae-tinged reference to Police guitarist Andy Summers, as he did in the intro to Geggie's knotty "The Eyes are Worth a Thousand Words," during the first of two sets during the evening's performance, as he is Jim Hall during the ambling swing of the title track to his own A Second Look (Mel Bay, 2005), which opened the same set.

Juris' full-throttled approach brings an almost unparalleled diversity, as he's as much a master of harmony—a remarkable self-accompanist who can find a chord to match any note in a melody no matter where he is on the neck---as he is of textures and techniques that become singular defining markers for some, but are only part of a far larger arsenal for him. With only a handful of devices, Juris' tone ranged from clean and warm to tart and dirty; and from thickly chorused to subtly delayed. His ability to quickly shift in delay and create chordal swells is only matched by a virtuosic ability on his instrument that makes clear that, were he stuck with nothing but a guitar and an amp, he'd be no less inventive. But his ability to combine staggering guitaristic techniques—ranging from sweeping cross-picking and rapid-fire but delicate harmonics to hard-to-match intervallic leaps and visceral bends that, when coupled with a gritty tone, lend his playing a distinctive, Scofield-like blues edge—makes him not a double or triple threat but an infinite one: what's coming next is always evocative and unpredictable.

John Geggie / Vic Juris / John Fraboni Vic Juris, John Geggie, John Fraboni

Despite Juris' massive skill as a guitarist (when he's not travelling the world, he's on faculty at The Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the Jazz and Contemporary Music Program at New York's New School University), he avoids the trappings of excess and any attendant lack of focus. With so much at his disposal, that he can create inventive solos song-after-song—and interact with Geggie and Fabroni at a surprisingly deep level for a trio playing its first and only date—demonstrates why, though he may not be a household name, he is a musician's musician.

After a watershed year in 2007, during which Geggie's own playing and writing seemed to climb to a new level, the bassist continues to grow. His solos are more confident and, with his own evolving bag of personal tricks, he's a player whose voice has been emerging gradually over a longer period but has clearly now arrived. Not a prolific writer—though he has finally released an album under his own name with pianist Marilyn Crispell, Geggie Project (Actuelle, 2008), and has another coming soon with saxophonist Donny McCaslin—he does write challenging tunes that change shape considerably, depending on the context. Certainly his rubato tone poem, "Across the Sky," has never sounded lovelier, with Fraboni forgoing his more assertive stance through much of the two sets for a more textural approach and Juris "getting it" more than most. This trio also performed the (up til now) definitive version of the bassist's idiosyncratic "Scatterbrain Drain," a more aggressive tune on which Geggie's robust sound, Juris' meaty tone and Fraboni's loose approach—combining near-reckless abandon with clear intent—made for some of the evening's more exciting moments.

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