Christine Jensen – Under the Influence Suite
Lesley Mitchell-Clarke, The Whole Note
Two-time JUNO-winner, saxophonist, composer and conductor Christine Jensen is one of the most gifted, creative and skilled international musicians/composers of her generation. With her new five-part jazz suite and recording, Montreal-based Jensen has materialized nothing short of a musical triumph. A deeply personal project, this well-produced CD (which was commissioned by l’Orchestre national de jazz de Montréal) is an homage to Jensen’s significant musical influences – creative masters with whom she found a deep, soul connection and who have helped to shape her as an artist and as a human being. These jazz icons include the late Kenny Wheeler, the late Jan Jarczyk, the late John Coltrane, Lee Konitz (with whom Jensen studied extensively) and Wayne Shorter. Jensen (who conducts the ONJM) has also chosen to incorporate the lovely voice of Sienna Dahlen – which in timbre and tone is the perfect complement to the dynamic ONJM and also to the potent music itself (to which Dahlen contributed lyrics).
Among the superb sections of this cycle are Part I (For Kenny Wheeler), which begins with Ouverture – a spooky and disarming sequence that opens the door for Starbright, a stunning, breathtaking and heartbreaking opus that segues into an expressionistic and free-flowing vocal and instrumental exploration, which then explodes into a cacophony of heart-pounding brass, a scorching piano solo by genius François Bourassa as well as gorgeous solos/rhythm section work from trumpeter Bill Mahar and drummer Kevin Warren. Also performed to perfection are the lilting, sassy and swinging Sweet Lee (For Lee Konitz) and both compositions written in tribute to Wayne Shorter: Anthem – a spiritual, non-linear, outside of space/time experience – and the joyous, dueling saxophones of Chant.
Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal & Christine Jensen - Under The Influence Suite
CD Review by Alison Bentley
Under the Influence: a perfect description of music that is immersed in, but not overwhelmed by, the work of musicians and mentors you love. Canadian saxophonist, composer and conductor Christine Jensen was commissioned in 2015 by the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal to write this powerful suite, dedicated to Kenny Wheeler, Jan Jarczyk, Lee Konitz, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.
Part 1 (the longest section) is For Kenny Wheeler, the great Canadian-born trumpeter who had died the previous year. Jensen has described her music as "coming out of the Kenny Wheeler aesthetic", after working with him for a number of years at Canada’s Banff Centre, and his influence would seem to be the strongest on this album. The eerie, free sounds of Ouverture make way for Starbright, which sent me back to Wheeler’s '90s ECM Music for Large & Small Ensembles. Jensen’s orchestral timbres are often Wheeler-esque, with their uplifting melancholy, and dark tones. Jensen’s approach to melody is more motivic; overlapping phrases build and harmonise with increasing intensity. It’s as if you see one phrase through the prism of the next. Just as Wheeler wrote for Norma Winstone’s ethereal voice, so Sienna Dahlen’s pure tones are central to this music. Dahlen’s Keatsian lyrics lead us in ("Timeless star blazing through the night") before fusing with the orchestra in horn-like lines, lightening the deep colours. She uses free sounds as well as strong tones – sometimes breathy, like glass wrapped in tissue paper. Solos emerge naturally from the textures: François Bourassa’s fine piano solo and Bill Mahar’s elegant trumpet flow from Kevin Warren’s delicate drumming, which draws as much on drum and bass as jazz.
The late Polish-Canadian composer and pianist Jan Jarczyk is sorely missed by Jensen and the orchestra. Jensen: "He was such a great teacher of composition, and he taught us all the rules – what we were to break and what we weren’t, and I would still go break them." In Part II To Jan Jensen explores a chorale, expanded with dynamic orchestration. Dahlen’s emotive lyrics and Jean- Pierre Zanella’s explosive sax solo pay tribute.
A high energy Drum Interlude prefaces Part III (for John Coltrane) Leap. Based on the chords to his Giant Steps, it invokes Wheeler-esque orchestration, as horns ease out long notes over an intense groove. The sounds fuse: there’s a striking moment where the sax solo seems to emulate the guitar’s slightly distorted rock sound. Part IV (For Lee Konitz) Sweet Lee pits trombone against the superb orchestration, playing hopscotch across the chords of a lopsided tango.
Wayne Shorter is one of Jensen’s greatest influences, and Part V, Anthem and Chant, are for him. There’s a mesmeric section, hinting at Miles’ In a Silent Way, with sparkling guitar harmonics, bass thrumming, and abstract sax shapes. Two saxes duet freely, as the energy increases into a slow rock groove and exquisite meditative theme. The saxes’ free breathiness interweaves with Dahlen’s voice, as they develop into an insistent drone, and then strong rock feel. Stirring blues phrases over punchy horn lines draw the whole orchestra in. A quiet moment bursts into a thrilling sax chase on a cliff edge, but everyone lands together.
"I hope that each movement of my suite contains a fragment of their character," Jensen has said of her influences. This excellent album is no pastiche, but a development of her own distinctive style of composition and arranging. It’s an amazing accomplishment, along with the superb discipline and improvisational freedom of the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal.
L’ORCHESTRE NATIONAL DE JAZZ AVEC CHRISTINE JENSEN - UNDER THE INFLUENCE SUITE
Ralph Boncy, VOIR
La saxophoniste Christine Jensen mène plusieurs projets de front: avec les universités McGill et Sherbrooke, avec son propre groupe, avec sa sœur Ingrid (trompettiste) et avec l’Orchestre national de jazz qu’elle dirige ici de main de maître pour l’exécution de sa nouvelle création dans laquelle elle passe en revue ses mentors et ses idoles. Dans l’ordre: Kenny Wheeler, Jan Jarczyk (pianiste décédé récemment), Coltrane, Konitz et Wayne Shorter qui donne l’occasion à un bel affrontement épique entre André Leroux et Frank Lozano.
Précisons qu’il n’y a aucune reprise dans ce disque ambitieux, homogène, nostalgique et lumineux, mais bien huit nouvelles pièces en cinq actes. On connaissait le talent d’arrangeuse de Christine, mais, cette fois, c’est la compositrice qui atteint un nouveau sommet de plénitude et de maturité aidé par la présence féminine, émotive et inspirée de la chanteuse Sienna Dahlen, captivante.
Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal & Christine Jensen ★★★★1/2 out of five, Under the Influence Suite (JTR8597)
Keith Black, The Winnipeg Free Press
Saxophonist and composer Christine Jensen was recently given a commission from the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal (ONJ) to compose a suite, and this album is the result. She added the vocals of Sienna Dahlen and, with the power of the ONJ, chose to reference and pay tribute to composers who have influenced her and, in fact, many of the ONJ members as well.
The suite has tracks named for Canadian-born trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, the iconic John Coltrane, Lee Konitz, Wayne Shorter, and Polish-Canadian pianist and composer Jan Jarczk (who taught Jensen and many ONJ members at McGill); she hopes for "a fragment of their character" in every piece. Jensen is showing increasing maturity and confidence in her compositions, and the result is a fine example of contemporary large ensemble writing. The solos are spectacular, including Jensen’s on For Jan Jarcyk and the two tenors on the Wayne Shorter tribute tracks.
There are wonderful jazz orchestra leaders and composers in the contemporary jazz world; Christine Jensen and this album can fully take a place with the best of them. From driving and powerful moments to lush melody, this is simply a great album for anyone who appreciates the "big" sounds along with the style of small group jazz.
Under the Influence Suite: sous influence majeure ★★★★
Alain Brunet, La Presse
Voilà une autre oeuvre de premier plan, imaginée par la jazzwoman montréalaise Christine Jensen, dont le langage s'inscrit dans le sillon des big bands contemporains sous la gouverne des Gil Evans, Oliver Nelson, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Bob Brookmeyer, George Gruntz, George Russell et autres Maria Schneider.
Commandée par l'Orchestre national de jazz de Montréal en 2015, cette suite pour grand orchestre de jazz révèle la chanteuse et parolière Sienna Dahlen, dont on a déjà fait l'éloge pour ses projets solos. L'usage de cette voix magnifique, très personnelle, d'une grande suavité et d'une puissance insoupçonnée confère une autre dimension mélodique aux compositions et arrangements de Christine Jensen. Les interprétations et improvisations de la chanteuse font corps avec cet orchestre mature dont la chef d'orchestre exploite de nouveaux accents (notamment la guitare), en élargit la palette harmonique et les concepts rythmiques, lui accorde certaines libertés atonales.
Conçue en cinq mouvements, cette oeuvre évoque indirectement le legs de Kenny Wheeler, Jan Jarczyk, John Coltrane, Lee Konitz et Wayne Shorter. Bien qu'elle soit «sous influence» de ses maîtres, l'écriture de Christine Jensen s'en affranchit davantage en proposant un langage qui lui est propre, sans rompre pour autant avec l'esthétique du big band contemporain. Du souffle! -