Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 13, No.6, 2014

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)
2008 Jazz en Rafale Festival (Montreal) - Mar. 27th - April 5th -- Tél. 514-490-9613 ext-101 (featuring David Binney)
Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: CHRISTINE JENSEN


For many years I preferred the music, inventiveness and especially fearlessness (risk-taking) of Christine Jensen’s older sister, Ingrid: in particular, her album At Sea (2006). I found the former’s improvising, as if in thrall to presets that limit expression instead of firing it up, too rectangular: In the end, all too neat and neatly wrapped up – and quickly forgotten. But beginning with a series of concerts entitled Nordic Connect, it became very evident that saxophonist Christine Jensen had rather suddenly (many still haven’t caught up to her evolution), upped her game. For her spell-binding 2014 Montreal International Jazz Festival concert at l’Astral, which featured an original orchestral work entitled Habitat, Jensen left no doubt that she is now among the elite jazz composers -- and not just in Canada but in North America.

Habitat is a tightly knit, superbly contoured labour of love that requires a 19-piece orchestra. The working title was inspired by Montreal’s Habitat 67, a futuristic apartment complex that features multi-leveled environments and a highly original reconfiguration of both public and private space. It was unlike anything the world had seen and today, half a century later, it is still regarded as an architectural landmark and is a designated heritage site. Christine Jensen's Habitat, in terms of its multi-faceted structural components and use of a unusual tones and textures to demarcate and invigorate space, is no less impressive a work.

One of the inherent shortcomings of the big band sound is that it invariably overwhelms the personalities of the individuals that comprise it. Even in the improvisational sections, the big shouldered, sonic boom aspect of an orchestra restricts the musicians' personal expression in the same way smaller ensembles free it. What distinguishes Habitat from other grandly conceived works is that despite the large sound, a very clear and up-close portrait of Christine Jensen emerges through her meticulous composing, conducting and playing. What is refreshingly clear from the outset is that Jensen is not interested in the orchestra concept in order to take command of it or, à la Maynard Ferguson et al, bask in its lushness. While she was conceiving the work, she intuitively understood that the orchestra – the reservoir of raw tonal material it provides – would best allow her to be her own person in her music.

Reduced to its essentials, Habitat is a confessional or personal space the composer has created in order to position herself, find her bearings and make sense of the world around her. She makes sure, in her compositional choices, that there will be no walls of sound behind which the soloists can hide or slack off. Of note in the improvisational sections is the refusal to play by the rules which in jazz mostly calls for the soloist to improvise off an unvarying harmonic (music's equivalent of minimalism). Habitat's improvisations are lively because the framework that guides the musician includes timely modulations, subtle mood swings and shifting time signatures: the kind of stuff (of life) that distinguishes, for example, The American Songbook from other improvisational material.

In her more exploratory moments, no matter how far out she goes, Jensen always returns to what is non-negotiable in music: those recognizable melodies to which all music, like the hunter, returns homeward bound. And when she pairs off with her trumpet playing sister, you’re not sure who is playing such is the complicity that transforms their dialogue into a single stream of consciousness as they respond in kind to wonderfully integrated harmonic structures that they sometimes stretch to the breaking point before relaxing them in order to shift into another gear or ease into another dimension. Throughout the work, we delight in its many unexpected turns and convolutions that, like a missing step in a stairway, are sure to keep us engaged and alert in both ascension and descent.

If too much of jazz is spent on improvisation at the expense of composition, Christine Jensen’s Habitat is both an accusation and refreshing correction that invites repeated listening. In its taut and meticulously conceived architecture and emotional breadth that does the composer proud and true, I’m persuaded that, over time, it will generate the interest and study it richly deserves.

Photo© Hanna Donato



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