The blurry photo that adorns the cover of Habitat is completely at odds with what awaits inside the package: Some of the most incredibly focused and finely wrought large ensemble music to emerge in recent memory.
Canadian saxophonist/composer Christine Jensen won plenty of fans with the her last jazz orchestra albumTreelines (Justin Time Records, 2011)but this one puts her in an entirely different category. With Habitat, Jensen joins the ranks of the large ensemble elite.
Jensen's inspirations come from different corners of the world, as she explores Afro-Peruvian ideals ("Blue Yonder"), expands on an idea born in Brooklyn ("Sweet Adelphi"), and reflects on her experiences in Haiti and the horrible earthquake that ravaged Port-au-Prince ("Tumbledown"). She manages to work with a global gaze, yet her music is spoken in a single language.
Some may liken Jensen's work to that of Maria Schneider, since diminishing whispers and flurries ("Treelines"), triumphant brass, and nuanced voicings all come into play in the work of both women, but it's something else entirely that truly connects them. Schneider and Jensen both have the ability to speak their own stories, support those told by the members of their respective ensembles, separate those two ideals as needed, and seamlessly merge them together at will.
Habitat is a study in colors, contrasts and emotions, brought to life by some of the best musicians north of the 49th parallel. While trumpeter Ingrid Jensen may be the only name familiar to many who come across this album, plenty of other enormous talents are hiding in plain sight in this band. Tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas' performance on "Nishiyuu" is an astonishing thing of beauty and wonder, alto saxophonist Erik Hove makes his mark on "Intersections," and tenor saxophonist Joel Miller shines on more than one number. More than half of the individuals in the group get to step out at one time or another, layering their own personality atop or within Jensen's creations.
As of its release, Habitat is the clear frontrunner for large ensemble album of the year. Of course, the likelihood of the album and it's creator getting the same attention and credit as Schneider, Darcy James Argue, John Hollenbeck, and the like is slim, but that speaks to jazz's geographical biases rather than the merits of Christine Jensen and Habitat.
Treelines; Tumbledown; Blue Yonder; Nishiyuu; Intersection; Sweet Adelphi.
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).