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2014 Geggie Invitational Concert: complex tapestries of music (review)

David Braid, John Geggie, and Ted Warren play thoughtfully as Joel Miller, Jim Lewis, and Christine Jensen look on. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

John Geggie / David Braid / Christine Jensen / Jim Lewis / Joel Miller / Ted Warren
NAC Presents: Geggie Invitational Concert 2014
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, April 12, 2012 - 7:30 p.m.

View the photo gallery

It was a benediction of horns, all in unison. Soaring then falling, it opened John Geggie's only invitational concert of this season on an exalted note.

With those first notes of Christine Jensen's “Garden Hour”, the concert started as it would continue: with all six musicians contributing to the complex tapestries of music, each piece developed to its fullest extent while still retaining its individuality.

For this show Geggie invited five of his favourite Canadian musicians, all of them with decades of experience – both in mainstream jazz and as adventurous improvisers, an essential part of a concert like this. Except for the encore, all the pieces they played were their originals; Geggie told the audience they had more music than they had time to play, “but we're going to play as much as we can”.

If constrained by budgets to those living in Montreal and Toronto, he nevertheless was able to include three jazz Juno award winners: alto/soprano saxophonist Christine Jensen (2014), tenor saxophonist Joel Miller (2013), and pianist David Braid (2012). They were joined by drummer Ted Warren and trumpeter Jim Lewis, both also well-known to and appreciated by local audiences.

The sextet opened with an uninterrupted 20 minutes of music, “Garden Hour” segueing directly into “Don't Cry” by Jim Lewis. David Braid's piano provided the connection: slowly building in energy, its measured variations as thoughtful as Jensen's piece. And then, as Warren entered with bright, sharp drumming, the music burst into a rushing torrent, with Lewis' insistent trumpet line over all.

After that extended display of energy and cohesion, it's no surprise that the crowded room greeted the final joint fanfare with strong applause.

Joel Miller's “Tang” again showed how all the musicians were contributing to the sound. Its swinging vibe was immediately set by Braid's bright piano and Warren's crisp drumming, and confirmed by Miller's smooth, full tenor and Jensen's lively soprano, with Geggie's syncopated bass lines underneath moving the vibe along. It ended with a coruscating duet between tenor and trumpet.

Jensen's “A Shorter Distance” was primarily a contemplative duet between her flowing alto sax lines and Braid's moody piano, with all the horns coming in partway through and providing a strong finale, Warren's “Monk-Sonic” featured Miller on flute, in a bright and sassy number which provided a strong ending to the first set.

I last heard (and enjoyed) Miller's “Salsa Coltrane” at the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival, in a concert by his Honeycomb project where the happy Latin beats of cajón, congas, and donkey jaw rattle were an essential part of the sound. This rendition was much more dramatic: starting with a trademark Geggie bowed bass solo, combined with a metallic drone which Miller played on his iPhone. The effect was ominous and concentrated, even as Geggie moved to pizzicato and Braid added light brushes on piano strings. But then the horns entered, and, while the deep bass sound remained in the background, the mood brightened substantially, with accented piano, vibrant drumming, and scintillating sax and trumpet lines – much more the tune as I remembered it, though still denser and more intense than the earlier version. Geggie described it as “a jaunty little number” – which I guess was accurate enough, if rather underplaying their extensive reworking of the tune.

John Geggie's only number of the night was “Chorale”, a cross between classical music and free jazz, which he said he had written in the last week, instead of doing his income tax. It started out as an anthem of horns and then went off exploring, verging into atonality and disintegration in places, but always recovering its essential hymn-like nature.

“Say a Silent Prayer” by David Braid was another slower piece, its full-bodied sound enhanced by Lewis on flugelhorn. At times, Lewis reminded me of Guido Basso, with beautifully rich, full, and flexible lines. But all the musicians contributed substantially to the piece's multiple layers, circling around its melodic theme as they maintained its steady forward momentum. This was Braid in his Sextet mode: vibrant motifs, strongly presented, and creating a memorable whole.

Lewis stayed on flugelhorn for his own composition, “Coming Down”, beginning with a long, reflective solo backed by light piano and drums, and then joined by the other horns. A nuanced and meditative piece, it featured a resonant bass solo from Geggie which nicely echoed Lewis' variations on the melody.

The second set ended with “Takeda No Komoriuta” by Braid, a piece more reflective of his recent CDs, and based on a Japanese folk song dating from the 1500s. It began sparsely, with Braid playing percussively on the wood of his piano, enhanced by light bass and drums. Miller entered on flute, playing the Japanese theme, with strummed piano strings adding to the otherworldly effect. Then the piece moved to a more jazz-like melody on piano and flugelhorn: slightly mournful but uplifting. As the other horns joined in, the sound became steadily richer. The music slowed to allow quiet piano to restate the initial theme; then the horns joined in on the melody, ending in a strong and extended flourish

After an extended and enthusiastic ovation, the musicians returned for an encore and the only non-original of the evening: Ornette Coleman's “Turnaround”. Performing the well-known standard with verve and lots of syncopation, they began in unison, split into solos, duos, and trios to explore the piece, and then ended with a deep held note and a final drum crash.

Over the past 13 years you could argue that Geggie has developed a formula for his Invitational concerts: take good musicians who don't regularly perform together, have them each contribute compositions, and see what happens. But it's such an expansive and expandable formula – more of a concept, really – that it almost always works.

The only disadvantage for the audiences, of course, is that these are one-of concerts (or, in this case, two-of, with a performance the next afternoon in Kingston). However, Geggie did say at the end of the show that he hoped this group would get together for more shows down the road. Given how well these musicians click together, one would hope this happens soon.

    – Alayne McGregor

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Set 1:

  • Garden Hour (Christine Jensen)
  • Don't Cry (Jim Lewis)
  • Tang (Joel Miller)
  • A Shorter Distance (Christine Jensen)
  • Monk-Sonic (Ted Warren)

Set 2:

  • Salsa Coltrane (Joel Miller)
  • Chorale (John Geggie)
  • Say a Silent Prayer (David Braid)
  • Coming Down (Jim Lewis)
  • Takeda No Komoriuta (David Braid)

Encore:

  • Turnaround (Ornette Coleman)

See also:


Photos of the concert  ©Brett Delmage, 2014
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