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2011-12 Geggie Series: "It's not work, it's play" (review)

(l-r) John Geggie, Joel Frahm, and John Fraboni at the soundcheck for the fourth Geggie Invitational concert of 2011-12. ©Brett Delmage, 2012John Geggie / Joel Frahm / Min Rager / John Fraboni
Geggie Concert Series 11/12, #4
Saturday, March 17, 2012
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

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True to the spirit of jazz, the musical minds of local bassist John Geggie, Montreal pianist Min Rager, drummer John Fraboni (also from Montreal), and New York saxophonist Joel Frahm were put together for the first time, and the group proved Geggie's faith in their creative abilities was not misplaced. Almost every seat was filled at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage, and the sizable audience listened with such rapt attentiveness that Frahm complimented the crowd for being such an "intent listening audience" when he took a moment to say a few words. In response to the audience's alert listening, the musicians consistently created engrossing tension and resolution with a touch of a finger or a strike of a key.

After striding onto the bandstand amidst excited applause, the band slid into Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way." Rager set up the tune with a dreamlike solo piano intro, with Geggie and Fraboni entering soon after to establish time on bass and brushes, respectively. Frahm initially adhered closely to the tune's melancholy melody, later breaking away from it into variations that could stand as melodies in their own right. His solo was a study on how to develop and elaborate on a musical idea, which he performed throughout the range of his tenor with speed and precision. Rager also performed a strong solo on this song, building from relaxed eighth note lines to accented rhythmic figures that both Geggie and Fraboni developed. After an agile bass solo by Geggie, Frahm took the tune out with a noticeably different rendition of the melody, followed by some bluesy lines on a vamp.

This opening number was followed by an original tune from Geggie called "Canon." The intentionally disjointed melody was traded in short phrases between the piano and bass, and from this, a bass line using double stops emerged. Frahm entered the mix, finishing off the melody and launching into a solo in which he ratcheted up the intensity by insistently repeating phrases. Fraboni rapidly caught on to some of Frahm’s rhythmic ideas, and created a pleasingly busy backdrop to his improvisations with plenty of snare drum and ride cymbal hits.

After demonstrating he could emulate John Coltrane or Michael Brecker, Frahm channelled the romantic balladeer Stan Getz as he used his gorgeous tenor tone and vibrato to bring life to "Flor de Lis (aka Upside Down)". This bossa-nova style tune showcased Rager, as she unrolled a solo with lines doubled an octave apart in each hand, and Geggie, who played a hip bowed bass solo. Frahm composed the next song, titled "What's Your Beat?" The rhythm section broke into a funk groove, and Frahm played the catchy melody, as well as a soulful solo. The tune wound down with an ear-grabbing drop in dynamic level at the end of Rager's solo, and ended on a quickly held note.

The second set began with another original by Frahm entitled “De Molen” (meaning “windmill”, or “the mill” in Dutch.) This up-tempo swing tune had a more complicated musical road map than the other pieces so far, with a short breaks filled by Frahm, and a brief switch into a funk groove later on into the form. Fraboni played fabulous time on his ride cymbal throughout this piece, which locked in with Geggie's bass line and drove the ensemble forward with force. Frahm visibly enjoyed Rager's solo, which was characterized by descending patterns and two-handed percussive chords. During Fraboni's solo, the tenor and piano played a repeated figure, adding tension and momentum. Frahm rocketed up to a screaming altissimo note to end the tune.

“Septième Arrondissement” was next, written by Geggie and inspired by a trip to Paris. The bass line floated around a pedal tone, and Fraboni occasionally imposed an interesting 6/8 feel over the tune's original 3/4 waltz. Rager's solo was of particular interest, as it became more of an open conversation between her and Geggie. Following this song, Frahm was prominently featured on Billy Strayhorn's “Chelsea Bridge”, one of the most captivating pieces of the entire evening. Geggie grounded the group by playing a simple bass line beneath Frahm's tender and careful rendition of the melody. The tenor solo spelled out the harmonic structure of the tune with crystal clarity, and double time arpeggios, as well as lengthy falls, also contributed to creating an improvised masterpiece.

This last set ended with Rager's original composition “Goodbye Manhattan,” which was a slow, swinging blues. Rager complemented the tenor's melody nicely, and once again, Geggie's rock-solid bass work made the whole tune swing hard. The group's teamwork, communication, and execution of instrumental athletic feats throughout the evening showed why the musicians have all earned high critical acclaim.

After extended applause and cheering, Geggie, Frahm and Fraboni climbed onstage once again to play an encore. After a brief debate, they decided to begin without Rager, who was delayed backstage. The trio leaped into an up-tempo version of pianist Cedar Walton's “Bolivia”, and Rager rushed to her piano bench soon after, casually slipping into the tune as if nothing had happened. Frahm's solo ended with him walking off the stage, still playing before he made way for Rager to improvise. This gave the lasting impression that he would be able to continue indefinitely without his well of ideas running dry. Without a doubt, the entire audience would gladly have listened to Fraboni, Geggie and Rager continue all night as well.

    – Chris Maskell

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Photos from the March 17, 2012 concert sound check / rehearsal  at the NAC Fourth Stage ©Brett Delmage, 2012