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2011-12 Geggie Series: four musicians in concert (review)

(l-r) John Geggie, Chet Doxas, Jim Doxas, and Phil Dwyer at the soundcheck for the third Geggie Invitational concert of 2011-12. ©Brett Delmage, 2012John Geggie / Phil Dwyer / Chet Doxas / Jim Doxas
Geggie Concert Series 11/12, #3
Saturday, February 18, 2012

National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

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In a jazz quartet, the front line can often include tenor and alto sax, or tenor and trumpet, or even tenor and trombone.

But two tenors? That's less common. However, in this concert, Phil Dwyer and Chet Doxas clearly showed that the combination can work well when the musicians are attuned to each other and explore the different capabilities of their instruments.

There were many existing connections among these four musicians – drummer Jim Doxas with bassist Jim Geggie, the Doxas brothers together and with Phil Dwyer – but this concert's arrangement was new. It was also a rare chance for local audiences to hear Dwyer, who has not been back in Ottawa since B.C. Scene in 2009.

The evening opened with a fast-paced piece by Dwyer called "Things", which allowed all the musicians to get into sync. It began with an insistent double tenor line by Doxas and Dwyer and then showcased solos by each of the musicians, before the saxophones came back together harmonizing, one playing low and one high.

This was followed by "Gingerbread Boy" by Jimmy Heath, a tour-de-force of punctuated sax work. Doxas and Dwyer started out with quick interrupted lines, responding to each other: the rhythm was like the fast back-and-forth dialogue in a Samuel Beckett play. Then they alternated the lead, both playing fast and echoing each other's physical movements. Then, while Dwyer continued with the melody line, Doxas added accent notes up and down the scale. A bass solo, starting off deliberate and then speeding up followed, underlaid by fast light drumming, and then both saxes reentered for an extended syncopated duet that finally ended abruptly.

Doxas then followed with a delicate solo sax rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark", with a great deal of feeling. He followed the melody for several verses before moving out into variations but kept the same soft, clear, and slow feel while improvising. He was well supported by Geggie's strong resonant bass lines and Jim Doxas' quiet brushes and cymbal work, with occasional quiet string of bells in the background.

And the set ended with a piece by Geggie, "Runaway Sheep" (a tribute to the Black Sheep Inn). In this piece, the bass and drums took the lead in a dance that started in a stately measure and then moved to a faster beat. The gentle and clear joint line on both saxes underlined the rhythm section but was not the major focus of the piece.

The second set started off strong with Dwyer's "Mr. Jones", a bluesy piece whose influences appeared to range from "It Ain't Necessarily So" to hard bop, and gave both saxophonists lots of room to spread out and show off some assured lines. Dwyer then reminded the audience that he is equally proficient on piano, with a solo performance of the ballad "Summer Night" by Harry Warren (which he had apparently played before at a previous Ottawa jazz festival). Strongly backed by shimmering and steady drumming, Dwyer showed off the sparkling rhythm of the piece while also having fun playing on its changes.

The final number started out as John Geggie's "In Phrygian Mode", his variation on a piano etude by Béla Bartók, but then morphed into "Barracuda" by Gil Evans. Geggie began with an ominous and clearly defined bass riff, underlined by Jim Doxas' light bell ringing and resonant hand drumming. The two saxophones entered together, light and airy, and then moved into a complementary mode, each harmonizing with the other. Both took solos keeping the same melancholy air and slow tempo; Doxas experimented with fluttering lines and tapping on his saxophone and then up and down lines. Jim Doxas interjected a steady march beat on his cymbals, and the musicians gradually moved into "Barracuda". That piece steadily increased in pace and complexity, with lots of circular breathing on the saxes. It was a darker, more abrasive piece than "Phrygian" and offered more opportunities for changes in tempo and intensity, and for the two saxophonists to play with and against each other.

Passionate applause from the audience quickly called the musicians back for an encore: an unexpected combination of Doxas on sax and Dwyer on piano performing "Body and Soul" (initially with no drums or bass). Doxas' performance was much rougher-edged than previous performances I'd heard of this standard, but it contrasted well with Dwyer's romantic interpretation. Both musicians allowed a lot of space in their renditions, which still keeping the essential emotion of the piece and showing off the underlying syncopation. It reminded the audience of the raw, simple emotions in the lyrics of this song.

This concert showed off the strengths of John Geggie's approach of bringing together jazz artists who don't necessarily play together often but share a similar enough understanding of the music that they can develop a fine working relationship. It was a classic evening of excellent jazz ranging from melodic standards to adventurous improvising, and was well appreciated by the audience, who frequently interrupted with enthusiastic applause.

And the concert also showed that you don't need international artists to draw a good crowd. This all-Canadian show sold out, possibly because Ottawa audiences were already familiar with and fans of each of the artists, all of whom had played before in Ottawa and with Geggie over the years.

    – Alayne McGregor

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Photos from the concert sound check / rehearsal  at the NAC Fourth Stage ©Brett Delmage, 2012