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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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Sister Ingrid Jensen was also on-hand for a performance by the same group that appeared on the siblings' recent Infinitude (Whirlwind, 2016). The trumpeter/composer/educator has made the United States—specifically New York City—her home for many years alongside husband/drummer Jon Wikan, another member of the Infinitude quintet that also featured the unparalleled guitarist Ben Monder alongside another Canadian gem, double bassist Fraser Hollins). Ingrid's résumé is filled with significant collaborations, from Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue to Geoffrey Keezer...and, perhaps, most germane at this moment, the great pianist Geri Allen, whose unexpected passing at the too-young age of 60 just a few days ago has been on the minds of everyone touched by her music, from musicians to fans alike. Suffice to say, FIJM has done very well by awarding Christine the Oscar Peterson Award this year, but would ultimately be remiss if, sometime in the next few editions, it were not to present Ingrid with an award as well.

Beyond individual instrumental acumen—and as demonstrated by their last FIJM performance in 2013, with the identical lineup barring Monder, whose chair was occupied by the broad-minded keyboardist Gary Versace—much has been written about the simpatico shared by the two siblings, but it's an irrefutable experience that was made all more vivid in performance were, when the saxophonist and trumpeter played unison lines, it truly felt like a single voice.

Their 80-minute 2017 set at L'Astral—an intimate club setting that, seating roughly 350 people but capable of handling nearly double that for standing room shows, and opened during the festival's 30th anniversary—drew almost exclusively from Infinitude: "Infinitude with attitude," as Christine quipped with characteristically dry wit during one of her brief introductions.

The sole exception was Ingrid's heavily reworked arrangement of Woody Guthrie's "This Land" (a tune whose melody Guthrie took from the Carter Family's "When the World's on Fire"). In her introduction to Christine's wistfully atmospheric, melancholically rubato and open-ended "Garden Hour," which segued into "This Land," the trumpeter described it—not actually naming the song, but instead challenging the audience to figure it out for themselves—as "a sixties song, initially more happy but becoming more sinister to reflect the country I live in." It was the kind of introduction that seems to be finding its way into the sets of so many musicians living in the turbulent United States these days.

Ingrid also took a moment to reflect on Geri Allen's passing. The trumpeter had performed with the pianist—most notably on drummer Terri Lyne Carrington's all-woman The Mosaic Project (Concord, 2011)—and also worked with her in an educational capacity, describing Allen as someone who "lives through everything she touched"; that teaching with Allen at a summer workshop for young women was "a life-changing experience"; and that "we're all still reeling, but none more than those who knew her. Still, she touched anyone who had the joy of hearing her."

Dedicating the set to Allen, the trumpeter's lyrical and spiritual ballad "Hopes Trail" moved from time-based lyricism to a freer rubato middle section, returning again to time before segueing into "Old Time"- -a composition from another sorely missed artist, Kenny Wheeler, last heard on the trumpeter's final album, Songs for Quintet (ECM, 2015) but, at its core, a rework of the Canadian expat's title track to Azimuth's final recording, How It Was Then... Never Again (ECM, 1994). The Jensens couldn't have evoked a better, more appropriate reflection on Allen's penchant for deep melodism and irrepressibly adventurous spirit.

With Hollins delivering the initial theme to "Hopes Trail," and a solo predicated on his muscular tone but still tender touch, the quintet's version of "Old Time" was far fiercer than either Wheeler's version or that of Azimuth—the trumpeter's collective trio formed in the mid-'70s with keyboardist and longtime musical partner John Taylor and Wheeler's more often than not vocalist of choice, Norma Winstone—and featured an impressive solo from Wikan, whose résumé includes work with both Jensen sisters, but also time spent with guitarist Torben Waldorff, Darcy James Argue, Jay Thomas and Denise Donatelli.

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