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2010-11 Geggie series: a cheerful collaboration (review)

John Geggie / Archie Alleyne / Brian Browne / Mike Rud
Geggie Concert Series 10/11, #3
Saturday, January 29, 2011
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

Bassist John Geggie is known for bringing in well-respected jazz musicians from across Canada, the United States, and the rest of the world to play with him in his invitational series – musicians the local audience would almost never hear otherwise.

It's interesting, therefore, that he received one of his biggest turnouts for a group whose origins are much closer to home. Geggie and pianist Brian Browne are from Ottawa, guitarist Mike Rud used to live in Ottawa and is now in Montreal, and drummer Archie Alleyne lives just a few hours down the road in Toronto.

The room was packed: at intermission, the ushers were searching out any available chairs for those who had to stand or sit at the edge of the room for the first half. And the audience was clearly enthusiastic: applauding warmly after each number and intent on the music.

If you liked musicians "having fun and playing lots of swinging music", as Geggie described the evening at its start, you were going to enjoy this music. It included both standards and originals, but not hackneyed choices. "Quiet Night", for example, was not the well-known Brazilian piece (with an added "s"); you might know this Rodgers and Hart song if you were a Brian Browne fan, but not from constant repetition by jazz pianists.

The evening opened with a piece by Mike Rud called "McLovin", a cheerful number that combined fluid guitar and piano lines with a noticeable bass presence. It set the pattern for the evening – Rud and Browne generally traded off the lead, each frequently inspired by or reacting to the other's playing, while Geggie would insert bass solos and interesting textures as appropriate. Alleyne stayed in the background more, usually playing brushes rather than more assertive sticks, and using his cymbals to fill in. But if you listened carefully, you realized that he was following and reacting to the other musicians as well.

There were only two other originals, and they closed out the second set, bookending the evening. First was Geggie's "Unsaid", played as a romantic ballad. Browne expressed the melancholy in the melody, but also used it as a stepping-off point for a series of arpeggios and rhythmic experimentation. He ended the piece with a single grace note, which Rud promptly echoed on guitar.

It was followed by Browne's "Happy Little Mothers", a fast blues with a syncopated piano introduction. The drums, guitar, and piano all took turns leading on the rollicking melody, a very suitable number to warm up a winter's night.

But even more noticeable was an eclectic selection of pieces by other musicians. They ranged from jazz standards like Ahmad Jamal's "Poinciana", Sonny Rollins' "Pent Up", and Kenny Wheeler's "A Song for Jan", to the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love". "Pent Up" showcased Alleyne's drumming: aggressive at the beginning, then light and clear using brushes. He then alternated solos with piano and guitar: each playing for less than a minute and then switching, each highlighting the other's expression.

Alleyne was also the main attraction in the last song of the first set: "AAA", a song written for him by pianist Robbie Botos. It started with an extended fast drum solo, followed by equally fast guitar. Drums again alternated with piano and guitar, producing a bright, lively feel, energizing the audience as well.

My favourite piece was Arthur Herzog's "God Bless the Child". Because of Billie Holiday's famous rendition, I would have reserved this for vocalists (with extreme care) – but  the instrumental expression worked. Browne introduced it as a romantic ballad, backed by shimmering cymbals from Alleyne. But as Rud tenderly played the verse on his guitar,  you could hear the melody become both bluesier and more ironic. Both the guitar and piano became more intense as the song progressed, allowing you to appreciate the melody and remember the unsaid words.

The encore was "Drown in my own tears", a blues popularized by Ray Charles, which Browne had featured on one of his albums: full-bodied and crowd-pleasing, it ended off the evening with a flourish.

At the beginning of the show, I was wondering if Browne would dominate the music as I've seen him do elsewhere. But that didn't happen: all four musicians contributed substantially and individually to the sound. It was a perfect example of the Geggie magic in matching musicians and producing excellent music.

And an example of cooperation in the Ottawa jazz scene: partway through the show, Geggie thanked René Gely, who lent his guitar to Rud after Rud's own guitar failed during the Friday rehearsal. Gely's guitar performed flawlessly.


  – Alayne McGregor