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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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Inspirations, awards and dedications aside, the quintet was wrapping up a short, very intense week-long Canadian festival tour and so were playing at a level that made every tune from Infinitude both tighter and looser than their corresponding recorded versions. Still, the gentle atmosphere that defines so much of the recording was maintained...no mean feat in a venue with clinking glasses and the other ambient noise endemic to a club environment. Still, not unlike Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan's Small Town (ECM, 2017)—also recorded live, in New York's heralded Village Vanguard— during the Jensen sisters' set, the old saying "you could hear a pin drop" was equally true, as the audience was enthusiastic, appreciative...and attentive.

This was music that, whether in its calming quietude or more fiery moments, completely commanded attention, from the potent draw of its compositions—beyond "Old Time'" and Ingrid's arrangement of "This Land" and her own "Hopes Trail," featuring four by Christine: along with "Garden Hour," the double-punch of the album-opening "Blue Yonder" and "Swirlaround"; and "Octofolk," whose ostinato of three ascending, two-note phrases provided another context for Wikan to solo with tremendous control over dynamics before the lightly swinging main body of the piece, combined with a knottier, metrically challenging theme, led to another brief solo from Hollins.

Monder's sole compositional contribution, "Echolalia"—first heard on his 2005 Sunnyside album Oceana, but arranged for the completed different setting of Infinitude's horn-driven quintet—began with the guitarist's inimitable and unrelenting ability to build dense layers through complex voicings, finger-picked at seemingly impossible high speed, slowly emerging as he brought it in through his use of a volume pedal. But as the horns entered to deliver a theme sung, on the original, by Monder's longtime collaborator Theo Bleckmann, it soon opened up to a demonstration of the fullest possible breadth, in one solo, of Monder's ever-evolving approach.

A true musical/guitaristic polymath, Monder may have first emerged in the shadow of Frisell, but he's long transcended such comparisons. Whether using a dark tone with delay creating greater breadth, or a densely textured overdrive as he used on his "Echolalia" solo, his ability to execute broad intervallic leaps, rapid fire phrases, complex chordal passages and sweeping phrases built horizontally across his neck but then moving effortlessly up and down the fretboard, he demonstrated, once again, that he's a virtuoso with few peers, and a player who manages to deliver a wide range of dynamics without ever falling prey to the trappings into which so many guitarists fall: excessive volume and superfluous signature phrases. Instead, Monder managed to create an array of colors, harmonies and melodies that never overpowered his bandmates.

A quality also true of Wikan, who managed to ebb and flow along with the dynamic demands of the music while still astutely balanced with the rest of the group—and while it's sometimes the consequence of a good sound engineer at the front-of-house board, sitting so close to the stage as to hear what was coming from the stage rather than the PA system, this quintet's onstage volume felt completely comfortable...and intrinsically well-balanced.

As for the Jensens? Whether on alto or soprano, Christine continues to build a personal style that mirrors her distinctive compositional voice. Ingrid employed electronics far more than during her 2013 FIJM show with Christine, but never to excess and always with impeccable taste. Whether it was looping what looked like a red plastic pan pipe at the start of the set-opening "Blue Yonder," using a wah wah pedal to create darker textures than even her broad ability on trumpet could achieve, or bringing out a variety of mutes, she was as much a colorist as a "conventional" burnished-toned trumpeter.

But it was when the sisters played together—playing scripted lines that seamlessly flowed from unison to broader harmonies that orbited in out and around each other, or freely improvising in tandem—that the real magic happened. And while the set, with no time for an encore, was far too short, there was so much magic between the Jensens—and with their honed and clearly connected group—that it was more than plenty good enough.

June 30: Charles Lloyd Quartet, Le Festival à la Maison symphonique

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