were no smiles when Ingrid Jensen led her group on stage at La
Maison de la Culture Frontenac (Montreal). As the
musicians quietly gathered their instruments and thoughts, the
audience couldn't decide if it were being put on alert or subtly
cued -- for what would only become apparent with the unfolding
of the music.
myself flashing back to the mid 70s, when I first saw a clip of
John Coltrane and his revered quartet. The footage was part of
a PBS documentary on the jazz greats. What struck me about the
event -- even more than the music they played -- was the gravity
of the undertaking as it registered in their faces. The group’s
concentration and intent were so forceful, I remember being left
with the distinct impression that these were musicians who were
absolutely convinced that the act of creation is man’s last
defense against civilizations succumbing to their worst instincts.
It was as if the 4-some (+ Jones, Tyner and Garrison) had staked
its very life on the music where every member was willing to risk
everything for it.
Jensen’s music is of this kind of seriousness, thrown into
bold and unbowdlerized relief by the era of the music video that
mostly caters to self-absorbed groups and solo artists -- many
of whom do not write their own music -- who co-opt the medium
to express, in the case of males, either their extravagant groupie
fantasies or multi-race love-ins, and the women, their exhibitionist/seduction
fantasies. Without naming names, jazz videos are not exempt from
this kind of trivialization which makes some of us, I’m
sure, long for days of the corner vomitorium. To whatever degree
we rue these developments, they provide the necessary turn-off
for us to turn to and embrace Ingrid Jensen and her refreshingly
no-nonsense approach to composition and performance.
Jensen’s music is the antithesis of entertainment; it’s
the difference between vacation and voyage where the former encourages
the obliteration of the self, the latter, the self’s reconstitution.
In contrast to muscians for whom making an impression eclipses
the making of the music, Ingrid Jensen and her group carry themselves
like philosopher kings who have fought hard for their art and
who know many battles lie ahead and many hearts to be won.
her latest CD, At Sea, as a tribute to Miles Davis, perhaps
to ready and steady an audience she suspected might not be primed
for the challenges and unexpected directions her ambitious music
pries open, especially that segment of the audience who would
be familiar with her very capable but more conservative sax playing
sister, Christine Jensen
Ingrid owes to Miles and others, her biggest debt is owed to her
resolve and refusal to compromise exploratory instincts that make
exceptional demands on both herself and her musicians as they
go about looking for new ways to shape and modulate sound, which
of course risks temporarily stranding even the adventuresome listener
in the middle of something not yet fully realized.
of the compositions, which average 10 minutes in length, feature
a linearity that is purposefully punctuated with vertices and
fault lines that suddenly and superbly shunt the listener to different
gravitational fields. It’s the kind of music that consciously
seeks out those life arresting moments that thrive on instructive
disorientation for their euphoric effects. For this and other
reasons, At Sea is not for the faint of ear.
includes the always tuned-in Geoffrey Keezer on piano and highly
inventive percussionist Jon Wikan, whose concept drumming both
enlarges and makes familiar the unmapped, undomesticated musical
spaces that are at the heart of Jensen’s journey. The group
is unapologetic in its cultivation of those nether regions of
sound from which there is no exit until one is spontaneously created,
an outcome that depends on precision team work and the players’
having absolute confidence in each other’s musical imagination.
During these precarious but precious make or break moments, the
intra-group listening is almost mystical in its intensity, where
everything is on the line, where the group’s way out becomes
our way in. If a typical track begins in the safe zone, we stay
the course because Jensen, who despite a not so recessive gene
for melody, doesn’t believe in playing it safe; easy gratifications
are snubbed for the road not taken, for the sake of the fresh
off the press road map that emerges at the end of the hard day’s
night of music making.
sharing generously in the conquest of new musical territory, Jensen
leads by example. On a moment’s notice, her trumpet can
produce the floral trappings of a summer pastoral and the next,
the energy and abstraction of a Jackson Pollack painting. In At
Sea, life and music are as inseparable as water and wave.
No wonder an Ingrid Jensen concert feels like a voyage survived,
one that begs to be done again -- compass verboten.
music makes you feel good, Jensen and her inspired musicians make
you feel wiser and stronger – and experienced. Are you experienced?
At Sea, listen to "Tea