John Geggie / Vic Juris / John FraboniGeggie Concert Series 08/09
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
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' playingeven as his own seemingly endless technical array makes every solo a fresh experienceonly 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 harmonya 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 techniquesranging 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 edgemakes him not a double or triple threat but an infinite one: what's coming next is always evocative and unpredictable.
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-songand interact with Geggie and Fabroni at a surprisingly deep level for a trio playing its first and only datedemonstrates 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 writerthough 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 McCaslinhe 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 approachcombining near-reckless abandon with clear intentmade for some of the evening's more exciting moments.
Fraboni has recently returned to living in Montreal after spending time in New York, New Orleans and Toronto, also working on the road with Canadian singer Sophie Millman. He's worked with Geggie before, collaborating with local guitarist Roddy Elias. Throughout the two sets he proved himself a dynamic drummer capable of bringing out the nuances of a whisper on "Across the Sky." Kicking harder on an open and hard-edged version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," it's clear why he's quickly re-establishing himself on the Canadian scene where, no doubt, more will be heard from him.
Juris pulled out "Dancing Shadows," the opening tune from his best album to date, Blue Horizon (Zoho, 2004), but to hear it on a single electric guitar rather than layered steel and nylon string acoustic guitars gave it an entirely different complexion, allowing Juris, Geggie and Fraboni to take it in a more open-ended direction. Equally, his radically reharmonized, soft Latin-tinged rework of "All the Things You Are"again with a single electric guitar replacing layers of acousticsbecame ever so slightly more oblique, as Juris' solo intro barely hinted at the familiar melody so that when it came in, even with a reworked set of changes, its references were clear and alluded to both Juris' and Geggie's innate lyricism. Geggie's bowed solo on the tune was a highlight of the evening, along with Juris' ability to combine less-is-more with occasional bursts of more-is-more. Juris has also taken the late Lenny Breau's mastery of harmonics to an entirely new level, deftly combining them with fundamentals to create a distinctive harp-like effect.
Vic Juris, John Geggie
After closing the evening with Juris' raucous, riff-based "Romulan Ale" there was no way the audience would let the trio go without an encore. A final standard closed the evening on a gentle note. Geggie, Juris and Fraboni proved, with two sets of largely original material, that the modern mainstream is alive and well, especially when there are players this imaginative and capable of integrating tinges of free and chamber jazz into a straight-ahead context that gives the music room to breathe and grow. Geggie's shows rarely, if ever, miss, but for a packed house with no shortage of local guitarists out to watch a modern master at work, this was clearly one of the bassist's best shows of recent vintage.
[Note: The performance was recorded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) Radio 2, and will be broadcast/streamed at a future date. Go to CBC Radio 2 for more information and for hundreds of hours of additional streaming audio.
Juris will be back in town for a duet gig with Roddy Elias at Café Paradiso.]
John R. Fowler
Visit Geggie Concert Series and John Geggie; Vic Juris; John Fraboni on the web.