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John Geggie's two-saxophone experiment satisfies the audience

John Geggie's 2015 Invitational Concert with Jim Doxas, Kelly Jefferson, and Frank Lozano
NAC Presents
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, April 25, 2015

Jazz is a genre of experimentation. Improvisation is the norm; new combinations are welcomed.

So when John Geggie decided to go chordless – no piano, no guitar – for his annual Invitational concert, I figured it would be an opportunity to hear some interesting interactions and different music. And with saxophonists Kelly Jefferson and Frank Lozano in front, and Geggie on double bass and Jim Doxas on drums driving the rhythm, that's exactly what happened.

"Concerts like this are special because they are ephemeral: even in Canada's smaller jazz scene, musicians in different cities who aren't in the same groups are unlikely to get together often. It made for a special experience for the audience."

Jefferson and Lozano have known each other since they studied jazz at the same time at McGill University, though with Jefferson busy on the Toronto scene and Lozano in Montreal, they haven't had much chance lately to perform together. They both showed up with tenor and soprano saxophones, and deployed them in every possible combination: two tenors, two sopranos, one tenor and one soprano, and one soprano and one tenor.

Although all the musicians except Doxas contributed compositions – one even written on the train coming up – the set-list contained more jazz classics than usual at a Geggie concert. They opened with Ornette Coleman's “The Blessing”, emphasizing the groove in the piece.

Lozano and Jefferson began by blowing in unison on soprano, and then divided: Jefferson first outlining the melody incisively and delicately in the instrument's higher range with Lozano playing a simple line underneath, then Lozano taking over playing in a slightly lower register. The rhythm section supported them with strong forward motion, and then Geggie moved to the forefront with a sparse, deep, almost grumbling bass solo, with Doxas adding light drum thumps and cymbal taps as accents. Jefferson returned with an assertive soprano line and was joined after a few bars by Lozano, and they ended the piece as it began: strong and swinging.

And so it continued through the evening – an easy, relaxed collaboration, with all the musicians supporting each other and adding texture and ideas. Lozano and Jefferson played counterpointed lines in a tenor duet introducing “Central Park West”; Geggie emphasized the melancholy nature of that tune with a subdued, pizzicato solo, with Doxas filling in the space with hand drumming.

Rough-edged tenor sax in “Trane's Slow Blues” was matched by gravelly bowed bass and hollow-sounding drums. The solemnity of “Paul Motian in White Fields” was underlined by spare hand drumming on toms and snares and long held notes on saxophone. For “Black Nile”, Jefferson contributed fast, high, twisting lines on soprano while Lozano played a more laid-back solo on tenor, both adding to the dynamism of the piece and ending together in a joint flourish

The second set began with two back-to-back originals: Jefferson's “Corridor”, which he wrote on his way up from Toronto, was a short, quiet piece – almost hymn-like – which featured Geggie's bowed bass, Jefferson's soprano, and Lozano's tenor all playing the processional-style melody. In contrast, Lozano's “Never Met Her”, was hard-hitting with lots of room for improvisation. Based on the chord progressions for “Have You Met Miss Jones?”, it was introduced with a bass pattern that built into a groove, enhanced by hard drumming. Jefferson and Lozano's tenors danced on top, their two lines circling each other, and then became became more atonal and intense, almost like birds chirping. With punctuated sax lines and resonant bass-drum duet, it was a lively piece that really woke up the audience.

One of Geggie's favourite pieces by Charlie Haden is “Silence”, and he chose it in memory of the innovative bassist and composer who died last fall. Lozano on soprano and Jefferson on tenor began the piece in unison – with no rhythm section – playing light, full lines that felt like a benediction. Doxas joined in with light hand drumming and Geggie with deep, separate bass notes. They continued the evocative melody with Lozano switching to tenor, and ended with long held notes. It was a lovely memorial.

In tribute to the late spring, the next piece was “Potholes” by Geggie, which he said was written in Potsdam, New York, but equally appropriate to Ottawa, Toronto, or Montreal. It was a fast-paced piece with lots of forward momentum and room for experimentation and interaction – and a bumping rhythm on all the instruments.

The show ended with Geggie thanking the full house for supporting creative music – and with Lozano's arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie's “Woody and You”. Starting out with a strong repeated riff on both tenors, it developed into an energetic and fun exploration, in particular with lots of room for Doxas to drive the beat in different ways, both hard-edged mid-song and with an echoing flurry of cymbals at the end.

The two-sax/bass/drums combination ended up working beautifully, at least partially because of Lozano's and Jefferson's clear trust and comfort with each other. They ended up hugging each other at the end of the show. That choice of instrumentation may have limited the compositions this ensemble could perform – in particular, fewer originals – but the set list was still many-sided and interesting. Even in jazz classics, they chose less-frequently-performed numbers, with a wide variety of moods and tempos.

Concerts like this are special because they are ephemeral: even in Canada's smaller jazz scene, musicians in different cities who aren't in the same groups are unlikely to get together often. It made for a special experience for the audience, who looked satisfied and happy at the end.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set 1

  • The Blessing (Ornette Coleman)
  • Central Park West (John Coltrane)
  • Trane's Slow Blues (John Coltrane)
  • Paul Motian in White Fields (John Geggie)
  • Black Nile (Wayne Shorter) 

Set 2

  • Corridor (Kelly Jefferson)
  • Never Met Her (Frank Lozano)
  • Silence (Charlie Haden)
  • Potholes (John Geggie)
  • Woody and You (Dizzy Gillespie, arranged by Frank Lozano)

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