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John Geggie's Journey Band intertwines music from the 17th to the 21st century (review)

John Geggie's Journey Band
2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival
NAC Fourth Stage
Saturday, February 6, 2016 – 5 p.m.

Double bassist John Geggie may be best known in Ottawa as a jazz musician and educator, but his roots in chamber music are equally deep. So when he teamed up at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival with four musicians from Montreal whose musical inclinations also cross between classical and jazz, you could guess the result wasn't going to be straight swing.

This concert came about because of a special project grant offered by the festival for Ottawa/Gatineau jazz musicians – with the requirement that they find at least one Canadian musician they've always wanted to play with but never have, and arrange a collaboration with them. For Geggie, this was Philippe Lauzier on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone, and Kate Bevan-Baker on violin and vocals.

Lauzier has most often been heard here in Ottawa in free jazz shows, and is known for his collaborations with other Montreal musicians on the creative music and improvised music scenes. Bevan-Baker is classically trained but also experiments with other genres such as traditional and jazz music. She studies with classical violinist Mark Fewer (known for his jazz collaborations with Phil Dwyer), but also fiddles at Hurley's Irish Pub in Montreal with her band Solstice, as well as singing regularly with the award-winning women's choir, Concerto Della Donna. She's also recorded an album of jazz vocal standards.

The other musicians were a bit more familiar to Ottawa audiences, especially if they'd regularly attended Geggie's long-running NAC Invitational concert series: Pierre-Yves Martel on viola da gamba, who crosses between new music, improvised jazz, and chamber music, and Jim Doxas on drums, who plays everything from jazz standards to free jazz.

In fact, this show had a similar organization and vibe as the Invitational series: musical contributions from several of the musicians (Geggie and Lauzier at least); and a strongly improvisational approach. It was also a strictly acoustic concert – unlike some recent work by Martel – with no added effects.

For the first few numbers, one could have thought oneself at Chamberfest, starting with a solemn, classically-influenced invocation on bass clarinet and viola da gamba, enhanced by bowed bass; multi-layered music with a large dynamic range inspired by Bela Bartok's piano exercises; and a piece inspired by a composition by a musician at the court of Louis XIV (although I doubt that monarch would have ever approved of some of the adventurous percussion techniques with bells and paper with which Doxas decorated the piece).

I most enjoyed the second, more jazz-oriented half of the concert, beginning with “What Reason Could I Give?” by Ornette Coleman, which counterposed solemn lines on soprano sax, violin, and viola da gamba against very fast riffs on double bass and hand drumming, culminating in an intense vibration before ending softly.

The concert closed with “Mazad”, a piece by bassist Dave Holland from his “Thimar” project with Anouar Brahem, in a memorable rendition. It featured beautiful, other almost-worldly melodies floating over strong bass riffs and strongly vibrating and pounding drum interludes – and ended with lightly ringing bells.

After strong applause and a partial standing ovation, the show ended on a happy note with a traditional Irish tune, “Jig of Life”. Bevan-Baker opened on violin, playing the melody brightly and with joy, and the others gradually joined in. The melody circled and danced and filled the room, before fading to its end – a luminous close to the show.

Geggie told the full house in the Fourth Stage that this was a project he'd been wanting to do for a long time. One could definitely hear a strong simpatico among the musicians, and many finely intertwined performances.

But I found the first half dragged somewhat, and I wasn't sure how all the music fit together. The whole concert felt a bit rushed in terms of planning and preparation. If these musicians do get a chance to collaborate together for a longer period of time, I expect the results will be even more interesting.

    – Alayne McGregor

Note: OttawaJazzScene.ca received review access to the Ottawa Jazz Festival but was denied access for our photojournalist, Brett Delmage. Therefore we are unable to publish photos with this review.