John Geggie / Marc Copland / John Fraboni
Geggie Concert Series 10/11, #4
Saturday, March 5, 2011
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

This was a Geggie Series concert in which one musician's sensibility dominated.

It was not as though double bassist John Geggie or drummer John Fraboni did not have a considerable role in the music, both in terms of sound and playing time. But pianist Marc Copland defined the approach to the pieces, even in others' compositions, in terms of using the music as a springboard for improvisation rather than sticking to the original score.

It was a night for tearing compositions apart (particularly the standards) and putting them back together in new mosaics. The pattern was set with the first number, Wayne Shorter's "Footprints", which was only recognizable for the occasional brief phrase. Copland's piano started it off with a few echoing notes, which changed into a slow bright melody, with cymbals shimmering in the background. He brought in the actual melody, but left it almost immediately to explore around the chords. Geggie took over, bowing his bass and then sending that sound through further electronics to produce an odd metallic sound.  Geggie then moved to a more cello-like sound, and let it became more intense, and then all three musicians returned to a more structured rhythm and style.

Underscored by heavier drumming with lots of echo, Copland's piano became lighter and faster, and returned briefly to the melody. Then it was off again, and back, with repeated bass lines underneath. All three musicians increased their speed to a final climax and then faded out. Sometimes startling, sometimes confusing, certainly attention-getting, it sounded as though it would have made fine theme music for Neil Gaiman's character, Delirium.

The same pattern was followed in the next number: Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood". Copland began it with a few notes then moved into a repeated riff, and then played the melody. But he quickly interrupted it with improvisations, and then went back. Melody, improv, melody, improv repeated, and then was followed by a bass solo and and thoughtful, romantic bass-piano duet. The sound became more swinging, but then was interrupted again to become more agitated before it returned to the melody.

Copland is known for his collaborations with bassists (for example Gary Peacock, whom Geggie studied with). This ability to work well off each other was particularly notable in Geggie's "In a Phrygian Mood". The piano and bass opened in step, moving outward and upward, moving into what sounded almost like a medieval dance. Geggie then took off in a flurry of notes, ending up in a fast-paced melody. Copland interrupted with strong piano chords, and Fraboni joined in with louder and louder drumming. The piano dominated, with ominous chords, and let the tension continue to increase, as though a murderer was about to arrive. And then it all died down to a processional pace, with Fraboni playing the drums with his hands, and bass and piano moving in a stately pace together.

This compatibility was also evident in Copland's "Talkin' Blues" in the second set, which he had recorded as a duet with Peacock. In that piece, Copland and Geggie played off each other, deftly interspersing figures and riffs. Similarly, Copland's "The Bell Tolls" contained several bass-piano duets, in gentle patterns of slow notes.

Geggie's "Across the Sky" was inspired by his watching the Northern Lights in August. Copland's rendition was particularly sympathetic and well-drawn: haunting and quiet,  it captured the peace of a summer night.

Listening to this trio's music required concentration: you couldn't just let it wash over you. But, at the same time, it rewarded attention with many moments of beauty and a leavening of humour and innovation.

The audience applauded loudly at the end of the second set, and called the musicians back for an encore: "Blue in Green" by Miles Davis. It was a slow, reflective rendition but even there Copland inserted some unexpected notes, to the delight of his listeners.

  – Alayne McGregor