Christine Jensen is one of the new breed of composer / arrangers who write for large ensembles on a grand scale, favoring themes that paint well-drawn pictures and tell evocative stories, most of which are based on personal experiences or particular sights or sounds that have lingered in their mind and led them to put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking, of course, as most musicians these days use computers like the rest of us).
Jensen, a Canadian, has assembled a number of the finest sidemen (and one notable woman) she could find to emblazon her second big-band album, Habitat, which comprises a series of extended and picturesque tone poems in the manner of such contemporaries as Maria Schneider and fellow McGill University alumnus Darcy James Argue as well as musical guru Bob Brookmeyer. Even so, Jensen's vernacular is by and large her own, producing essays that parallel her peers while at the same time exploring fresh and engaging pathways. A second Jensen, sister and trumpeter Ingrid, is very much a part of the enterprise, lending her considerable talents to the section on four numbers and soloing on three: "Treelines," "Intersection" and "Sweet Adelphi," the last with Christine making it a twosome on soprano sax.
Another of Christine's compositions, the stormy ballad "Nishiyuu," was written as a showpiece for tenor saxophonist Chet Doxa who invests it with suitable depth and intensity. "Treelines," commissioned by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, raises the curtain, its pliable landscape underscoring purposeful statements by Ingrid Jensen and alto Donny Kennedy. "Tumbledown," which follows, was written by Christine as an homage to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, "Blue Yonder" (the album's briefest track at 7:53) as "a sketch study in Afro-Peruvian festejo rhythm." Tenor Joel Miller and trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier are the soloists on "Tumbledown," baritone Samuel Blais and drummer Richard Irwin on "Blue Yonder." The lyrical, even-tempered "Sweet Adelphi" is preceded by "Intersection," written to depict a walk along Montreal's most diverse and well-known street, rue St. Laurent. Soloists are Miller, Irwin, Ingrid Jensen (with what sounds like added electronics), bassist Fraser Hollins, alto Erik Hove and pianist John Roney.
If nothing else, Habitat serves unequivocal notice that Christine Jensen is a composer whose remarkable perception and ingenuity should enrich the contemporary big-band scene for many years to come. In other words, this impressive step forward marks the beginning of what could be a long and successful journey.
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).