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2012-13 Geggie Series: In rich harmony (review)

John Geggie / Jean-Nicolas Trottier / Frank Lozano / Thom Gossage
Geggie Concert Series 12/13, #1
Saturday, February 16, 2013
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

One of the joys of John Geggie's long-running Invitational series is how he introduces local audiences to fine musicians they may not have heard before.

For this show, it was Montreal trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier, who, alone and in conjunction with saxophonist Frank Lozano, produced rich and intricate sounds which easily melded with Geggie's firm bass and Thom Gossage's playful drumming.

The concert, the first in this year's somewhat abbreviated series, attracted a full house. Geggie noted it was “great to see so many familiar faces”, with many fans from previous years in attendance.

The musicians each contributed originals to the set list for two 45-minute sets. The songs ranged from relatively melodic to fairly free, but not on the extreme edge in either direction.

The first set opened with “Acid Bunny” by Trottier: a flowing piece with Lozano on soprano sax and Trottier on trombone first playing a strong groove in unison. Trottier then produced a rich yet clear and controlled solo, followed by Lozano's soprano curlicuing upwards, as the bass and drums maintained a steady blues-tinged beat with occasional ornamentation.

“Onus” and “Vortex 3”, a melding of two pieces by Gossage, started with a duet on trombone and tenor sax, but quickly upped the tension with punctuated notes on the horns, intense drumming, and fast bowing on the bass. It slowed for a moment, and quickened again to almost frantic intensity, and then resolved into deep long held notes on the trombone, vibrating in the silence. Quick notes on the bass and bright chiming notes from Gossage's Indian bells contrasted with the long notes on trombone, and then the tenor sax rejoined, adding a circular vibration over all.

“Beer and Tulips” is Lozano's contrafact composition based on “Days of Wine and Roses”, but the original melody did peep through perhaps more than quite appropriate. However, Lozano's piece was rougher and more complicated than Mancini's tune – like spun raw silk thread with occasional slubs thickening the texture.

The first set ended with “Runaway Sheep”, a original by Geggie. This piece has been included in several previous series concerts, and it's always fascinating to compare what have sometimes been radically different interpretations of Geggie compositions by different musicians. This one started by emphasizing the inherent resonance, holding long notes on different instruments and letting them sing. Then came fast, punctuated riffs and a more free-jazz feel, and finally long held lines again on the horns and three quick strikes on the drums to end the tune.

“Idée Conte”, the first piece in the second set, had a false start and never quite recovered. The deliberate opposition between low and high notes on soprano and trombone, and the alternated heavy and sparse drumming, was interesting, but I found it dragged after a while. In the next piece, “Townhouse”, Gossage managed to surprise not only the audience but the other musicians, when he pulled out a Smokey mini-amplifier, attached it to a microphone, and dragged that across his drumskin to create an almost-random series of electronic scritches and other effects. In contrast to the deep resonant bass riff and light trombone and tenor lines, the electronic sounds were unsettling, and Gossage varied them repeatedly to create unexpected – and interesting – effects. The audience responded with strong applause.

“In a Phrygian Mode” is a piece John Geggie based on piano exercises created by Béla Bartók, altering it slightly and opening it up to interpretation. It's also appeared in series concerts before: this version began slow and stately, with tenor and trombone in unison, and with echoing bass and cymbal-heavy drumming. It remained rich and deep, the variations reminding me of Jacquard-loomed cloth, each instrument moving to the top of the musical brocade and then dropping down again.

The show finished with “I Said Acidity” by Lozano, a fast-paced, bebop-influenced number from his recent album, Destin. It was full of fast modulations, quick interchanges, and an alternating bass/drums duet with hard, intricate riffs on both – an excellent, energetic conclusion for the show. It ended with the trombone and tenor circling each other with coordinating but not identical riffs – and then a final drum roll, and strong applause.

The Geggie Series continues with a concert on March 9, featuring Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias, Toronto pianist David Braid, and Montreal drummer Pierre Tanguay.

    – Alayne McGregor

Set list

Set 1:

  • Acid Bunny (Jean-Nicolas Trottier)
  • Onus, and Vortex 3 (Thom Gossage)
  • Beer and Tulips (Frank Lozano)
  • Runaway Sheep (John Geggie) 

Set 2:

  • Idée Conte / Story Idea (Thom Gossage)
  • Townhouse (Thom Gossage)
  • In a Phrygian Mode (John Geggie, based on Mikrokosmos by Béla Bartók)
  • I Said Acidity (Frank Lozano)