Project O: Pushing Creativity, Hoping for Longevity
“ Every night when we ”
Jazz music is ultimately about trying to develop one’s own sound and identity with which to use to express creativity, bare oneself artistically in an atmosphere of improvisation and communication. The masters have always portrayed that and practiced it, even if today’s record companies don’t always espouse it. But there are musicians out there on that quest. And among them is Project O , a relatively new group, formed by young musicians who are trying to make a difference, making new music for the head as well as the heart.
Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen , keyboardist Gary Versace and drummer Jon Wikan comprise the core of Project O, which also has regular contributions from tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake. The primary keyboard is Hammond B3 organ, a popular instrument once again, and it is the springboard for the group’s interaction. But, its members contend, not in the standard way. It’s more modern than Jimmy Smith or players in the jazz mainstream because of the broad musical influences of the group.
“You’ll definitely know within half a minute that it’s definitely not one of those cats,” said Wikan.
“There’s a lot more of the free elements of jazz that come into our group,” says Jensen, who, with Wikan, spoke recently with All About Jazz. “We’re all kind of versed in the entire gamut, from rock and roll to Coltrane to whatever. We seem to want to cover all these different areas without having to put ourselves into a category. That’s why I think this band’s going to be around for a long time, because we really enjoy playing together.”
The evidence is in the new CD Now As Then , a lively documentation of where the group is at this moment. It’s a collection of originals and other music (not particularly standards) that shows great group interplay, lively and dynamic soloing and a bright future for the band. It’s also remarkable in that it was produced by the group, with its own money, and kept out of the hands of record labels though it is being distributed by Justin Time records).
So there’s two things going on here. An exciting new band that has great promise if the direction on this CD is any indication. And a group showing that artistry doesn’t have to be squelched in the corporate system as it exists in the music industry today. The latter may be just as important as the former. Especially if the group is to get the sound it wants and the concept it wants across to the people without losing any soul to the corporate controllers. If this project succeeds, Project O might be a blueprint for others with a similar vision.
But ultimately it’s going to be the music and its ability to reach an audience that will tell the story. And regardless of what happens elsewhere in the industry, this group appears to be showing they can do it their way – in the office and on the bandstand – and make it count. Don’t bet against them, as a listen to Now As Then will attest.
“We’re always coming up with new stuff, depending on where the gig is and where we’re going. We’re already talking about recording again, we’ve done so well with this record. It’s barely been released and we’ve almost recouped everything, because we did it our way,” says Jensen.
The recording shines, with different moods and feelings, thoughtful and probing solos, and a cohesive, listenable feel. It’s expertly executed and the group is rightfully proud of its production values. Jensen’s writing is particularly stirring (her playing is always stellar), both with the tunes she penned, “R Hour” and “Silver Prelude/Silver Twilight, both with Wikan, but also her exquisite arrangement of “The Night has A Thousand Eyes’ which runs through a series of different feels.
All three players at the core – Jensen, Wikan and Versace – have a solid résumé of people they have performed with. They still have outside projects an d each is involved in music education. Versace, who wasn’t available during the interview, has played with the likes of Tim Ries, Kenrda Shank, Dave Friesen and is doing organ work with some others. Wikan comes from more of a rock background, but has adequately broadened into jazz and gives a guiding force to Project O’s music in the absences of a bassist. He adapts to all the moods Project O is into.
And Jensen’s trumpet is a good addition to any of the groups she’s out with, be it Virginia Mahew, Maria Schneider or any number of groups on the scene. She’s a lively player with a strong melodic bent and a strong, lush tone.
This band hopes to be around a while, and not just become a cadre of players that put together a couple CDs then went elsewhere.
All About Jazz: How long has Project O been together?
Ingrid Jensen (IJ): Officially, about two years.
Jon Wikan (JW): We recorded our record in May of last year, so that would be our very first experience playing as that band.