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Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra: Habitat

John Kelman By

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Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra: Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra: Habitat It may have been the title of her last album—Treelines, Christine Jensen's first large ensemble recording—but there was no song of that name on the 2010 Justin Time release. Instead, it's the lead-off to Habitat, Jensen's second album with her Jazz Orchestra, a commissioned work for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, its director, Dr. Paul Haar, looking for the Canadian saxophonist/composer to continue the strong work begun on Treelines. And why not? Treelines may have been the Montreal, Canada-based saxophonist's first large ensemble recording, but over the past 15 years she has gradually emerged as not just a saxophonist of note—her 2013 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal quintet set with sister/trumpeter Ingrid Jensen made that crystal clear—but a composer of increasing importance also, and not just on the Canadian scene. Jensen has, in relatively short order, evolved into a world class writer capable of going head-to-head with any large ensemble composer/bandleader on the scene today.

Bringing back a good percentage of the players on Treelines for Habitat's 17-20 piece orchestra, Jensen continues to pursue the longer-form, often episodic writing that defined the previous record while ensuring a bevy of impressive soloists to make equally clear that Montréal remains one of Canada's most creative jazz locales alongside Vancouver and Toronto. Some of the names are familiar to any who've been following the scene, like husband/saxophonist Joel Miller, who impressively shares the solo space with trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier on "Tumbledown," which begins with the sound of a lone clarinet, soon doubled by pianist John Roney (replacing Treelines' Steve Amirault). Sweeping contrapuntal lines define an introduction that leads to a chordal foundation reflective of the composition's inspiration—two tours in Haiti in 2007-08, prior to the tragic 2010 earthquake that decimated the small country—and a compositional complexity that mirrors what Jensen describes, in the liners, as "the beautiful and complicated city of Port-au-Prince." Beyond their own individual spots, Trottier and Miller ultimately solo in tandem, supported only by drummer Richard Irwin's combination of firm pulse and responsive support. It's just one of many compelling moments on Habitat.

While sister Ingrid solos on half of Habitat's six compositions, Christine—sticking solely with soprano for this date, rather than the alto saxophone that's usually her main axe—remains an ensemble player until the album-closing, waltz-time "Sweet Adelphi," an ambling tune that doesn't feature the sisters soloing together until its closing couple of minutes. Still, beyond each sister's individual instrumental prowess, it's a brief but more than sufficient moment that spotlights the remarkable simpatico shared by these two siblings. Ingrid has managed to shape a fine career in New York, in particular as a member of Grammy Award-winning Maria Schneider's own large ensemble and Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic (Concord, 2011) project, but a long overdue follow-up to her own superb At Sea (ArtistShare, 2005) remains sadly MIA.

Meanwhile, as Christine Jensen continues to raise her game as a writer—moving from the smaller ensemble work of Look Left (Effendi, 2006) to her more ambitious Treelines and, now, even more mature Habitat—a voice once redolent of influential Canadian expat Kenny Wheeler's melancholic lyricism, Maria Schneider's more joyful exuberance of and Gil Evans' rich colorations continues to exert itself more firmly. It's an inevitable evolution clearly recognized at home, with Habitat recently repeating Jensen's 2010 Juno Award win for Jazz Album of the Year at the 2014 award ceremony.

With the March, 2014 American release of Habitat, it would seem that the high regard Christine Jensen has long held in her home country is finally making its way across the border, and not a moment too soon. Her small but impressive discography—and, in particular, with the back-to-back critical acclaim for the stellar Treelines and Habitat—it's time that Jensen garnered the same American acclaim as her New York-based sister. Sometimes you don't have to move Stateside; sometimes, all you need is the patience, the devotion to craft and creativity, and the kind of impressive forward motion demonstrated consistently by Jensen since she first appeared on Ingrid's early recordings in the mid-to-late '90s, followed by her own releases starting with Collage (Effendi, 2000). With a career path that, from Collage to Treelines, moved in a corresponding upward direction, with the even more impressive Habitat, Jensen's trajectory has just taken a quantum leap forward.

Track Listing: Treelines; Tumbledown; Blue Yonder; Nishiyuu; Intersection; Sweet Adelphi.

Personnel: Christine Jensen: conductor, soprano saxophone (solo on 6); Donny Kennedy: alto saxophone (solo on 1), soprano saxophone, flute; Erik Hove: alto saxophone (solo on 5), flute; Joel Miller: tenor saxophone (solos on 2, 5), clarinet; Chet Doxas: tenor saxophone (solo on 4), clarinet; Samuel Blais: baritone saxophone (solo on 3), clarinet; David Grott: trombone; Jean-Nicolas Trottier: trombone (solos on 2); Muhammed Abdul Al-Khabyyr: trombone; Bob Ellis: bass trombone (1, 3-5); Jean Sébastion Vachon: bass trombone (2, 6); Dave Martin: tuba, euphonium (1-4); Joceyln Couture: trumpet; Bill Mahar: trumpet; Dave Mossing: trumpet; Aron Doyle: trumpet; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet (1, 3, 5, 6, solos on 1, 5, 6); John Roney: piano (solo on 5); Ken Bibace: electric guitar; Fraser Hollins: upright bass (solo on 5); Richard Irwin: drums (solos on 3, 5); Dave Gossage: native flute (4).

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Justin Time Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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