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Ingrid Jensen: Viking Spirit

By Published: September 24, 2007
IngridAAJ: I've often heard folks say that no vocal groups can harmonize as well as vocal groups made up of family members. Is there a similar phenomenon that transfers over to instrumentalists in terms of melding sounds?

IJ: I'm sure, yeah. Christine and I do a lot of things where we just spontaneously come up with lines and material behind another person's solo, doing a live orchestration, basically. It's okay for me to do that on my own music with my own band because it's just me. But when Christine and I do it together, a lot of times people ask, "Wow, can I see that part you were playing? What does that look like?" And we say, "We don't know." We just looked at each other and we have little code signals for long lines or short lines. But that's also part of the tradition of the music that we grew up with. We heard a lot of [the big band of Count] Basie and a lot of Oscar Peterson and the guys that riffed. We grew up riffing and communicating quickly on the bandstand. I think it's a combination of all that.

AAJ: With a Swedish pianist and bassist and two horn players whose last name is Jensen, I guess figuring out the name Nordic Connect isn't difficult. How does that name relate to the music that's on this record?

IJ: I think it's got a sort of "ECM-ish" sensibility. It's less straight-ahead and more ethereal. But mostly it's just about our heritages—"heritages," is that a word?

AAJ: It is now.

IJ: It sounds like a [George W.] Bush word, so I take it back. [laughs] "Combined heritage? Shared heritage and history?"

AAJ: I think "heritages" was better.

IJ: Well, "I'm the decider" here. [laughs] In many ways, we were able to get back to our Viking feeling of just being together from the same DNA and not worrying about playing in the tradition of a lot of the music we studied. We felt like we could support each other and we did support each other in bringing a lot of original music to the table and developing it. Some of it we developed just in the studio. I developed a sketch that we played. It came off of [my composition] "At Sea." It's an introduction I'd written for a new version of "At Sea." Thanks to them, it became an epic piece in the studio. Again, the social elements are what it's all about.

AAJ: Flurry hangs together so nicely as an album, and the tunes were written by the three of you, but you could easily convince someone that they were all written by one person or all written collectively. There's such a common sound. How many of these pieces came to the studio in complete form?

IJ: I think we did a couple of Christine's tunes pretty much the same way that they are on her former recordings. Some of my pieces we were working on in the studio, like the rewrite I did of "Everything I Love" [called "Things I Love ]. I finally got a new melody on it that I was happy with. [Pianist] Geoff Keezer was telling me, "Why are you continuing to play Cole Porter's tune when you've arranged it so far away from what it is?" I have to listen when he says that because he's right, so I struggled to find something. Now, I kind of like it.

Maggi brought in "Flurry" and she wasn't really sure about that. We had been playing it on the tour, but once we got in the studio, it was another thing we had to talk about a lot. At a certain point, I think Jon got really frustrated, really mad, because he didn't know what to play. Because of that, he ended up playing some of his best stuff, just searching and searching.

"Breathe/Quadr'l" are beautiful tunes that Maggi's already recorded before, but not in the same setting with the two horns.

AAJ: I've been listening to this record a lot, and I had it on in the car today with my one year-old and four year-old sons in the back seat. There's a moment in one of your solos where there's a very high note that bends up at the end of a phrase, and from the back seat I suddenly heard my one year-old say [mimics bending of high note].

IJ: That's awesome! [laughs]

AAJ: He kept doing that for the rest of the trip, even when it wasn't musically appropriate. [laughs]

IJ: That's fine. I'm glad I created a reaction. That's great. You have to let him hear "At Sea" so he can hear the whale sounds and say, "Daddy, what's that?" Although I guess at one he's not saying, "Daddy, what are those?" yet.

AAJ: You and Christine took different paths out of your hometown of Nanaimo [British Columbia, Canada]. Your path went right to Berklee. Why did you make that decision?

IJ: I don't know. I was quite the lost child in my mid-to-late teens. My family wasn't too excited about their daughter becoming a jazz musician, particularly on an instrument that not a lot of other women were making a living at. Especially not when I was coming up in the mid-'80s.

AAJ: Even though your mom was such a proponent of all of you being involved in music?

IngridIJ: I think she wanted us to be involved so that we weren't out smoking pot with the kids who lived up the street. She provided us with a lot of things to do, but I don't know if that was exactly her idea of my career choice. I know it wasn't, because she came from the old school where her parents said, "That's nice, you can play that, but you have to have a real job." I think she was still carrying around that old-school way of thinking. But I got a lot of scholarship money from different festivals, and I had quite a nice little savings of scholarships, especially for Berklee.

I went to what used the be the Bud Shank Jazz Camp. Now it's called Centrum and it's run by [bassist] John Clayton. I was there and I had this really extraordinary summer experience following my second year at the local college that I went to in Nanaimo. Even though I was very much in love with playing and there was no question what I wanted to do, I just wasn't sure what my next move was going to be. I was waitressing in the same restaurant that Diana Krall played piano in. She was playing piano one day and I was serving wine and bussing tables.

That was where I was at when I went to this amazing summer camp with all these great musicians. I think [woodwind player] Chris Speed was there that summer, and the [saxophonist] Phil Woods Quintet and [trombonist] Bob Brookmeyer and [trumpeter] Bobby Shew. All those guys heard me play, and they were super encouraging to me. That was in July and then I had a month to get myself together and go to Berklee, which is what they were suggesting I should do.

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