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Christine Jensen: Impressionism

George Colligan By

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GC: In another life I will play alto. I have one sitting in my office. I've played it for a total of 15 minutes. Your playing makes me want to try again. Before we talk about the big band recording, which of your small group CDs is your favorite and why? I think Look Left is mine. Dave Restivo is killing on it! I think the whole CD has a vibe.

CJ: [laughs] You are too generous. It is an incredibly difficult instrument to make sing I think. Look Left is great because I felt that we were able to communicate in a small group setting that gave us lots of space. That was really due to us having spent some time on the road beforehand, rather than me starting a new studio project. Not to say that I don't love each record for different reasons.

GC: Treelines is a wonderful large ensemble CD. I hear some influence of Kenny Wheeler, Maria Schnieder, [and] Gil Evans. What made you decide to do this and what were the pros and cons? Was it overwhelming?

CJ: It sure didn't happen overnight, or even within a year, and there were times in which I was overwhelmed, but the big thing was keeping organized and entering the studio with a well-rehearsed band. I really built the whole thing around my rhythm section and soloists as well. I gradually have been building up a big band repertoire of my music over time, probably for the last 10 years. I also gradually worked on getting the project of this album organized over the past three years, which included finding financial support through various agencies. This allowed me to dedicate a large chunk of time in preparing the scores, rehearsing the band, recording, and spending quite a bit of time in post-production. Through doing a concert a year of new music along with bringing in guest artists, I was inspired to get the album off the ground. Fortunately, I was able to get some optimal circumstances in the recording of the album, including working with a great producer/engineer here by the name of Paul Johnston. He was great in terms of making sure that I was not overwhelmed. In a way, it was much closer to producing a pop album, as we had to prepare so much and find a balance in mixing between a modern and traditional acoustic jazz sound, while layering Ingrid and her electronics on top.

We also worked hard on giving the feeling of a large room sound, as the studio we used included a tight set-up. I liked that for various reasons. It was especially a great session in terms of capturing an "in-the-moment" vibe with both the improvised sections and the brass and woodwind sections. Overall, the actual recording of the band was the shortest moment for me in creating the whole recording. We only had three days to lay down a lot of tracks, and we only got two or three takes of each track to choose from, so it really was an attempt of capturing the music in a pretty live setting. The other beauty of this project coming to life was that the musicians really dedicated themselves, and heir focus helped to raise the bar even more with solos and ensemble parts.

I don't really know when I decided to do this. It was always in front of me in a way, and the big step for me was getting focused on having optimal conditions with a project of this size. [laughs] Next album will probably be a duo or trio project though!

GC: Some of the big band music I enjoy has that sort of mixture of the large with the small, and features strong rhythm sections. I always felt that way about Maria Schneider's music, or that Joe Henderson's Big Band CD, or even playing with the Charles Mingus Band. I enjoy the soloing on Treelines as much as the group sound. Did you have any particular models for this particular project, being your first, or was it not a conscious thing? I realize you already listed some of your many and diverse influences, but for this being kind of a massive undertaking, did you feel more inclined to use a model, or was that not a factor? When I studied big band writing, we talked about some of the greats like Thad Jones, or Sammy Nestico, or Duke Ellington, but the instructor—trumpeter Mike Mossman— showed us very concise skills that I thought made it easier to write it our own way, as opposed to copying other styles. Is this how you think. Perhaps I'm leading you with this line of questioning?

CJ: I would say that those are all strong models. My general picture or idea of big band is the following: I am creating a large landscape, and the soloists are adding their own layer of color to it. I did study arranging with Bret Zvochik who is now running the jazz program in Potsdam, and came out of North Texas. He really drove home the traditional arranging techniques a la Nestico and so forth, but also inspired me to come up with original orchestration. I was really in love with Bob Brookmeyer and Wheeler's use of thick brass pads.

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