Joe Sullivan in rehearsal ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Joe Sullivan in rehearsal ©Brett Delmage, 2012

John Geggie / Joe Sullivan / Lorne Lofsky / Jim Doxas
Geggie Concert Series 11/12, #6
Saturday, May 26, 2012
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

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Over the last dozen years, bassist John Geggie has attracted a loyal following for his invitational series at the NAC Fourth Stage. There are faces one sees at practically every concert, who have followed the series for years whether the music is the freest of free jazz or straight standards.

The series has featured guest artists from Canada and abroad, introducing the audience to musicians they might not ever otherwise hear. And the format, which mixes up musicians in unexpected combinations, performing material not necessarily their own, has challenged both the musicians and the audiences.

The series has become an integral part of the Ottawa jazz scene, with consistently full or almost-full houses – as happened again with the last concert in this year's series.

It was the culmination of a several years' conversation between Geggie and Montreal trumpeter Joe Sullivan. Sullivan suggested Toronto guitarist Lorne Lofsky, who has played as a featured soloist with Sullivan's big band. Lofsky appeared on Sullivan's 2010 album, Northern Ontario Suite, and he's scheduled to play with Sullivan's sextet at this year's Montreal Jazz Festival.

And then Sullivan also suggested Montreal drummer Jim Doxas, who has played frequently together with Geggie. Both Geggie and Doxas are adventurous instrumentalists, who are capable of playing in a wide variety of jazz styles and enhancing any music they're given – which they particularly demonstrated in this concert.

That's because Sullivan and Lofsky generally set the mood for the evening: a laid-back, more nuanced approach that emphasized coordination and building on each others' contributions.

Watching all four musicians, you could see them listening carefully, and reacting to each other. When not playing, Sullivan in particular would sit with his head tilted, engaged in what the others were producing – and frequently looking delighted!

Geggie's "From Which", for example, showcased a bluesy, melancholy muted trumpet line counterpoised against faster-moving, note-bending guitar, gradually increasing in intensity. Geggie followed with a duet with Lofsky, the bass and guitar forming two halves of a melodic whole, and then Doxas strode in with a fast, echoing (but not loud) solo to which Lofsky fitted in high grace notes, before Sullivan again took over with the original melody

The repertoire moved among standards and Sullivan's originals, plus the one piece by Geggie. It included ballads (like Sullivan's “Khivan Holiday” and “A Lullabye”, and Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation") and more swinging numbers (Dizzy Gillespie's “Con Alma”, Charlie Parker's “Au Privave”, and Sullivan's “New System”).

Sullivan alternated among trumpet, flugelhorn, and cornet, using the warmer flugelhorn sound to particular effect on the ballads. Doxas was his usual inventive self: on “A Lullabye” he draped a string of bells across his chest and rang them very softly to fill in the space around the thoughtful bass and guitar melodies. On “Au Privave”, his rolling, assertive drum solo (following on from Geggie's angular bass rhythm) particularly energized the piece.

Overall, however, the tempo and the feel did not vary widely among the pieces. Several of the swinging numbers could have benefited from a higher level of aggression from Lofsky and Sullivan to give more variety in the sound.

Nevertheless, the music was consistently finely-tuned and appealing and fit together well, and easily sparked the audience to demand an encore. If quieter compared to some other Geggie shows, this show's musicianship and material certainly were up to standard.

The NAC has not yet confirmed whether the Geggie series will be back at the NAC Fourth Stage next year, or what form it will take. One would hope that this season's consistent popularity and high quality will count in its favour.

    – Alayne McGregor

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Photos of the concert sound check / rehearsal   ©This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 2012
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