It's nice to see that some of that grant-money floating around out there is being put to good use. Such is the case with guitarist Chris Jentsch's Brooklyn Suite, a 2005 live recording of a complex-yet-highly rewarding suite for 18-piece ensemble. Underwritten by the American Composers Forum and the Jerome Foundation, the project takes full advantage of these resources. Jentsch's ambitiousness pays off with a work that, while at times bordering on the modal and even atonal, ends up overall as an accessible album that will also appeal to crossover audiences due to the guitarist's fondness for the rock music aesthetic.
Don't assume, however, that Brooklyn Suite is a guitar-driven work. On the contrary, Jentsch makes himself somewhat scarce over the course of the album; he throws in a few licks here, some feedback there and a minimal number of solos; but he seems happy to let the "Group Large" do most of the talking. Henceforth, Brooklyn Suite should be considered less of a showcase for Jentsch's instrumental bravado, but more for his talents as an arranger and composer. His charts for the big band bring to mind a few familiar names, notably Stan Kenton (at his most advanced) and Gil Evans. In a strange way, some of Brooklyn Suite is reminiscent of Bernard Hermann, making a case for Jentsch's name as part of an "original music by" credit in a feature film. He definitely has the chops for it.
However, this album is only partially accessible; most classic-minded jazz fans might not gravitate towards the implementation of the rock-guitar sound over familiar big band instrumentation. It's an acquired taste that could perhaps rub some fans of the aforementioned legendary big band arrangers the wrong way. But you must applaud Jentsch's courage in this area; and take heed, old-fogies afraid of change: his guitar stylings aren't completely rock-based. His fondness for the Wes Montgomery sound (as noted in the liner notes) is quickly made clear on a number of occasions.
It's comforting to know that Jentsch has plans to continue performing into the new year in ensembles both small and large in and around town. And good news, folks: he recently received another grant which he plans to use on recordings with this same ensemble.
Opening Shards; Inside (Interlude); Outside Line; Going to Hail; Follow that Cab; Imagining the Mirror; Closing Shards; See You in Bali; Our Daily Dread.
Chris Jentsch: guitar; John Mettam: drums; Jim Whitney: double bass;
JC Standford: conductor; John Carlson: trumpet; Laurie Frink: trumpet; Jon Owens: trumpet; Russ Johnson trumpet; Brian Drye: trombone; Alan Ferber: trombone; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Kurtis Pivert: trombone; Ben Kono: reeds; Andy Laster: reeds; John O'Gallagher: reeds; Mike McGinnis; Dan Willis: reeds.