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Riverside (review)

Dave Douglas and Chet Doxas in counterpoint during Riverside's concert at the Ottawa Chamberfest. ©Brett Delmage, 2012

View photos of this concert

Read OttawaJazzScene.ca's interview with Chet Doxas about this project: Riverside looks to the past to move into the future .

Riverside (Chet Doxas, Dave Douglas, Steve Swallow, Jim Doxas)
Ottawa Chamberfest
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts and Humanities

One way jazz musicians can energize their work is to go back to past masters: to listen to the recordings which inspired them as they started out. And that energy and inspiration was highly visible at St. Brigid's on Wednesday, as Riverside played its second public concert. While the music varied from almost pastoral to intense line-trading, it was consistently energetic and collaborative – and greeted enthusiastically by the Ottawa Chamberfest “Chamber Fringe” audience.

The group is the brainchild of Montreal saxophonist Chet Doxas, and its inspiration is composer, clarinetist, and saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre, who worked with major jazz names from the 40s to the late 80s including Woody Herman, Jim Hall, and Paul Bley, and produced a series of groundbreaking albums.

The members of the group – Doxas on tenor sax and clarinet, his brother Jim on drums, Dave Douglas on trumpet, and Steve Swallow on electric bass – were influenced by those albums and Giuffre's style, but Swallow has a more direct link: he played with Giuffre on his innovative 1961 trio albums and again for two trio albums in 1989.

Giuffre's music ranged from “folk jazz” in the 50s to more avant-garde anti-bop later on, and that range of styles was reflected in the concert. The set list started out with original compositions by Chet Doxas and Douglas with influences from Giuffre, and then moved to some of Giuffre's own work rearranged for the quartet.

From the beginning, both Doxas and Douglas made a particular point of announcing and giving background to the music – useful when many in the audience may not have been familiar with Giuffre's music, but also creating a real connection with the listeners.

The feel and style of the night was clear with the first piece: “Northern Miner” by Doxas. It was a multi-layered piece, with tenor sax and trumpet predominant but with the percussion and bass adding texture underneath. The mood ranged from anthemic to lamenting, but what was most interesting was how Doxas and Douglas used counterpoint.

Counterpoint – overlapping melodies which are noticeably independent and yet harmonious – was a major feature of many of Giuffre's compositions. In this piece, Doxas and Douglas played lines that were clearly separate yet coordinated, in tandem but clearly distinguishable.

Jim Doxas showed his flexibility as well, constantly adapting his drumming to the other players, using everything from mallets to sticks to hand drumming to ringing the chain of bells he hung over his shoulder, for a soundscape that always enhanced but did not overwhelm the other instruments.

The next piece, “Thrush” by Douglas, brought up the mood: a fast, fluid piece with New Orleans brass band feel, and with room for both the bass and drums to take resonant, and in Jim Doxas' case, quite intense, solos.

Two linked pieces about moving to the country followed. Douglas introduced his pieces, “Front Yard” and “Back Yard” by talking about how important the connection to nature was to Giuffre's music. “Front Yard” featured Doxas on clarinet and Douglas on muted trumpet, producing a country blues with a touch of Aaron Copland.

Doxas' “Big Shorty” was a tribute to trumpeter and arranger Shorty Rogers, who played with Giuffre on the West Coast. It was a high-energy piece where the separate lines on trumpet and tenor soared around and through each other and eventually reached a satisfying unison.

Steve Swallow, who played a quieter supporting role for much of the concert, introduced Doxas' “Old Church, New Paint” with a simple gospel-influenced melody on bass, bending notes and using harmonics. Doxas took over, filling out the melody on sax but keeping the gospel feel, aided by some lovely atmospheric brushes work on drums, followed by Douglas on trumpet. They traded the lead, letting the music get a bit more bluesy before fading out.

The next three songs were pieces written or recorded by Giuffre. “The Train and the River” and “Scootin' About” were both up-tempo numbers that again emphasized interlocking lines on sax and trumpet, with a bluesy feel and driving rhythms underneath.

Doxas moved back to clarinet and Douglas to muted trumpet for “Trav'lin' Light”, a rearrangement of Giuffre's arrangement of this standard – which Douglas said was likely influenced by Billie Holiday's version of the song. Their rendition was soft and clear, open to the nuances and sadness in the song. It was inviting and beautiful – and the audience acknowledged that with extended applause at the end.

“Handwritten Notes” by Douglas ended the show on an up note: fast and loud, but also rich and full with a bluesy undertone and lots of trading off between trumpet and sax. The audience responded with an extended ovation, and the band came back with another up-tempo song as an encore, Douglas' “No Good Without You”.

The 90-minute set was satisfying and exciting – a diverse collection of music that nevertheless had a connecting theme and feel, and was played all-out by musicians who clearly loved the music and gave it their all.

Set list:

  • Northern Miner (Chet Doxas)
  • Thrush (Dave Douglas)
  • Front Yard / Back Yard (Dave Douglas)
  • Big Shorty (Chet Doxas)
  • Old Church, New Paint (Chet Doxas)
  • The Train and the River (Jimmy Giuffre) (from The Jimmy Giuffre 3, 1956, with Jim Hall)
  • Scootin' About (Jimmy Giuffre) (from Fusion, 1961)
  • Trav'lin' (or Travelin') Light (composed by James (Trummy) Young and Jimmy Mundy with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, arranged by Jimmy Giuffre) (from Trav'lin' Light, 1958, with Jim Hall)
  • Handwritten Letter (Dave Douglas)
  • encore: No Good Without You (Dave Douglas) (inspired by “All of Me”)

    – Alayne McGregor

See also:

All images ©Brett Delmage, 2012
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