Jazz composer and arranger Christine Jensen may or may not have been working in the shadow of her sister, trumpet-flugelhorn player Ingrid Jensen, for the past few years. But with the release of Christine’s CD Treelines, jazz composers and arrangers may find themselves working in her shadow for years to come.
Most people would think, without listening to the CD, that Jensen’s immediate influence is Maria Schneider. There is, one would suppose, a soupcon of Schneider’s impressionistic style. But this listener hears other influences, most specifically Thad Jones, or even Toshiko Akiyoshi, especially in the writing for woodwinds. To further the Akiyoshi comparison a bit, both women married their tenor sax players (Akiyoshi, the great Lew Tabackin; Jensen, the soon-to-be-at-Tabackin’s-level Joel Miller).
On Treelines, Christine also makes good use of her sister on both trumpet and flugelhorn. But while Ingrid’s presence is certainly felt (she solos brilliantly on seven of the CD’s eight compositions), this is definitely Christine’s opus. From the starting cut, “Dancing Sunlight”, with its Copland-like brass kickoff and tenor battle between the George Adams-like freedom of hubby Miller and the Sonny Rollins-style sequential solo work from Chet Doxas, we know who’s in charge.
Christine Jensen’s compositions here (the only one she didn’t write is “Dropoff”, written by Miller) find amazing moments within the confines of the usual jazz big band instrumentation. “Arbutus”, the second piece on the date, begins with Impressionistic sounds of dappled sunlight through the leafiest forest. From there, it proceeds to a stop-time ensemble wrapped around a drum solo by Martin Auguste.
The climactic piece on Treelines is surely “Dark and Stormy Blues”, which starts with a unison melody (that may remind some of “On Broadway”, hit song for The Drifters and George Benson) over an insistent guitar riff. After one chorus, the unison becomes a wonderfully voiced harmony blend of flute, muted trumpet, trombone, and (just possibly) some chalumeau-register clarinet. Ellington, anyone? Then, there comes a gorgeously harmonious voicing of the guitar riff for horns (still trying to figure out the instrumentation on that one; anyone who can hear it, drop us a comment). Trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier then plays a wah-wah plunger-muted solo that proves he has heard “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Dicky Wells, and Vic Dickenson.
This is followed by an asymmetrical alto sax solo by Erik Hove that puts one in mind of Lee Konitz. The melody then goes back into the unison figure, with the wonderfully scored guitar-riff-for-horns. And, POW! Out of the blue, we’re in a sort of conga rhythm which hits this listener as being in 13/8. Guitarist Ken Bibace and trumpeter Jensen (hooked-up electronically; to her horn, not to Bibace) duel in a space that recalls the Halcyon Days of Yore when creatures like The Don Ellis Big Band roamed the planet. Then, tutti riffs to the end, and a quick electronic fade.
OK, that’s the strong style of Christine Jensen’s Treelines. She even throws herself a soprano sax solo on the album’s penultimate tune, “Seafever”. The lovely parts are abundant and abundantly pleasing. Pick up this CD at Twist and Shout, still Denver’s best independent record store. It most definitely rewards frequent listening.