Ingrid Jensen: Higher Grounds
Ingrid Jensen is a young trumpet/flugelhorn marvel who assembled a stellar lineup for her third Enja CD, Higher Grounds. With Gary Thomas on tenor sax and flute, David Kikoski on piano and Fender Rhodes, Ed Howard on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums, you know the session is going to burn hot. From the invigorating melody of Lewis's "Seventh Avenue"executed with stunning precision by the entire ensembleto the gorgeous straight-eighth groove of Maggi Olin's "Land of Me," this CD packs punches from beginning to end.
The Fender Rhodes "has become a drug" for Jensen, and she relies on the instrument heavily: on "Higher Grounds," Ted Nash's "Longing," the intro of Chick Corea's "Litha," and Jensen's provocative arrangement of "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Those fond of Kikoski's sporadic Rhodes features with the Roy Haynes group will want to check out these performances. Thomas plays flute on many tracks, providing additional instrumental color; his solos on "Higher Grounds" and "Litha" are so good it's downright startling. The Rhodes/flute combination is at its most alluring on "Longing."
I wouldn't say that much ground is broken on this disc, as great as it is. The title track is the sole Ingrid Jensen original, and it's a bit derivative of the Miles in the Sky sound. "I Fall in Love Too Easily," a staple of Miles's repertoire, also signals Jensen's indebtedness to the master. The group interprets the standard as a bright waltz, which is a refreshing departure from the usual ballad treatments; Kikoski throws an additional curve by reverting to cut-time for his solo. A unison bass/Rhodes vamp figure begins the tune and recurs in between the soloists, which sounds awesome but again very consciously borrows from late 60s-early 70s Miles. One might say that this cut is a revealing example of where Jensen's at: derivative and original ideas coexist within the very same track, vying for prominence.
"Litha" is expertly played, but save for Thomas's flute solo, doesn't add much to Chick's original version. Woody Shaw, a pivotal influence for Jensen, played on "Litha" way back when, so the decision to record this tune is perhaps another instance of wearing her influences a bit too much on her sleeve. Same goes for Freddie Hubbard's "Dear John," although it's a joy to hear these folks solo over Giant Steps changesespecially Kikoski, whose own version of Giant Steps a few years ago remains one of this decade's most significant contributions to jazz. Fans of the pianist will also want to listen closely to his composition "Juriki," this album's second track.
Ingrid Jensen's pen and horn are works in progress, but what an absolute delight to listen in as she strives to locate and refine her own artistic voice.