Chris Jentsch: Cycles and Reflecting on the Journey
CJ: On the large ensemble records, the soaring-type melodies and improvisations that I assigned to myself to be executed with rock distortion and feedback are perhaps the most ear-visible aspects of the guitar parts. It's true that I feel these moments are the closest to whatever voice I feel I project as an instrumentalistmoments specifically designed, in fact, to be able to be heard in balance with a sizable jazz orchestra. But I also issue a lot of integrated lines with a warm/clean, jazz type of sound, and there are several spots in the suites where I am supporting someone else's improvisation, comping through chord changes with a jazz sound and more of a standard, interactive, jazz rhythmic approach. Further, I might point out that my guitar work in smaller groups strives to project the kind of intimacy in which a cleaner, jazz sound can be more at the forefront.
AAJ: Please talk about your influences both in terms of your own guitar playing and composing for large ensembles.
CJ: That's a huge question, of course. As a guitarist I really heard a lot of Beatles through the '60s and later found guitarists like Jeff Beck, Hendrix, [Carlos] Santana, Neil Young and Zappa as very important players to me vaguely associated with rock. In terms of the jazz guitar world, the most formative ones for me make an eclectic and perhaps revealing list: the two you mentioned above, Freddie Green, Django, Abercrombie, Ralph Towner, Allan Holdsworth, Frisell and Terje Rypdal. I would say also that the music of India and the German label ECM Records have been very important to me specifically as a guitarist.
As a composer, all of the abovein particular the Beatles, Zappa, Towner and Rypdal. As for checking out how other composers write for larger numbers of musicians or create longer forms, I would list Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Maria Schneider and Kenny Wheeler from jazz. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, 'Trane, Monk, Ornette, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Steve Lacy from musicians associated more with small group performance. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Wagner, Charles Ives, Toru Takemitsu, John Cage and Edgard Varese are highly mentionable, loosely from the European tradition. Traditional African music, I would say, has been important along with British/Irish folk music (Martin Carthy, Steeleye Span, June Tabor, Fairport Convention) and, of course, the long, lush history of the blues.
I've had so many friends, family and certainly teachers that have made an impact. The older I get, the lines between my life and music don't really exist, so I should name the Marx Brothers, Ingmar Bergman, Tom Waits, Bugs Bunny, traffic sounds, Sergio Leone, Bill Cosby, bird calls, George Carlin, car radios on scan, Monty Python, Bob Dylan and my wife as pretty important influences on my composing. I'm leaving a lot of things out.
Lastly, I've found entertainment of late by listening to two records together at the same time, sort of at random. Picking any two things can be a really interesting listen, but sometimes I try and focus my combinations to two relatively sparse recordings in order to generate an aggregate that presents a little more transparencysay, [Brian] Eno's Music for Airports (1978, Polydor) (ambient piano and electric keyboards) combined with Zappa's Sleep Dirt (1979, DiscReet Records). The juxtapositions can yield some truly stunning results, often conveying a kind of organic bitonality with clear polyrhythmsif your mind can swing that way.
AAJ: Since most of your discography is comprised of large ensemble recordings, how successful is your small group in terms of touring, etc.?
CJ: As I've suggested, since 2002, I have been very occupied with these two substantial Group Large projects, whether in pre-, post- or actual production, at times juggling aspects of both projects at once. Indeed, whatever quartet energy I had going since moving to Brooklyn in 1999 has suffered. We've done a couple of gigs a year, I guess, in the NYC area in the last 10 years as a trio or quartet and a bunch of sessions. I've also done a couple of projects that could loosely be described as chamber music. I can think of other bandleaders among my peers who seem to be able to keep small group momentum while producing projects with larger ensembles, but I don't seem to have been inclined to toss that many balls in the air.
Consequently, a small group recording project has been long-delayed (my last one was 1998) and as of September 2009, I have moved ahead with Jentsch Group Quartet recording sessions for a CD to be titled Fractured Pop featuring John Mettam and Jim Whitney (the rhythm section from Group Large) along with reed player Matt Renzi. I don't regret my recent focus on large ensemble works. I am finding that I'm turning back to the small group with a renewed vitality and, bolstered by the large group experiences, with a richer perspective of what I want to achieve.
I would also like to point out that whatever exists on my official discography (four CDs as of now) is a "tip of the iceberg" situation. I am readying the Jentsch Underground Series of CD releases, material going back to the late '80s. The advances we've seen in the technology of home recording have facilitated the editing and mastering of this archival material. Some volumes have an enhanced bootleg sound quality to them, but others are full-blown studio documents of various bands I've led over the yearsat least four separate trios or quartets playing various tunes, a trio and a duo committing free improvisation, live alternate versions of the large ensemble playing the suites, a live quartet version of a large ensemble suite, anthology-type compilations of rare tracks, and guitar-oriented collections. The initial issue will be perhaps 10 CD volumes released separately all at the same time. Six are already finished, and a few more are very nearly so.