Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra with Ingrid Jensen (now from New York)

Christine & Ingrid jensen

Christine & Ingrid jensen

Wednesday night was a big night for Canadian Jazz, in a big week for jazz in Winnipeg, for this week at least, the Jazz Capital of Canada.. The Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra with Ingrid Jensen (trumpet) concert on Wednesday night took the art of conversation into some new territory like bringing new ideas to a town hall meeting. Conversation within in a quartet is one thing, but with a full big band (or orchestra[1]) the complexities of conversation seem infinite, but so do the possibilities.

Christine Jensen’s composition leads the conversation musically, and interestingly engages with current concerns about the environment and Indigenous people. Two songs particularly caught my ear. “Nishiyuu,” reflecting the efforts of Indigenous people to improve their situation by walking protests. Please do check out the reference. I was also impressed that the piece did not appropriate aboriginal drumming or throat singing, but made its statement in the language of a contemporary big band.

“Treelines,” featuring Christine’s sister Ingrid on trumpet, adding effects of loops and echo with her feet, covered a lot of ground. The piece includes small ensemble and solo conversation, and with the full orchestra. The opportunities of ensemble playing when you have 18 musicians including piano, guitar, string bass and at least four trumpets, 4 trombones, and 4 sax players offer opportunities to a composer few jazz composers are lucky enough to have.

The tonal possibilities of such a large group were exploited in Jensen’s composition and in performance. Something seemingly simple as making use of loud/soft dynamics, diverse duet and ensemble settings, and slow and quick tempo can make a long piece, as most of them were,  interesting and engaging the listener for the often symphonic length pieces. Christine’s references to Mingus was also a helpful guide to listening. I am a big Mingus fan, and she had a crackerjack bass player in performance, but her references, I think,  applied more to the sound of the band, and the pieces she was writing.

I sometimes get a feel for a place I enter (where it’s a garage, or a library, a government office, or anywhere people work in groups) by whether the employees are smiling or not. Not those forced on cashiers by management, but sincerely from the conversation at the workplace.

No doubt the Robi Botos Quartet (opening the show) was in their “happy place,” but the musicians in the Jensen Jazz Orchestra were a serious lot, all dressed in black like a symphony orchestra might dress, with smiles few and far between, usually after a particular solo and the ensuing applause. All good. I do think jazz musicians’ continuing concern, especially composers, to be taken seriously, is short changing their audiences.

I actually never thought that smiling could make a difference in a listening experience. Again I go back to my high-school choir conductor (I was lucky – he was Henry Engbrecht) who led by example especially in performance, and like athletes playing together we were often told – have fun! He stressed the importance of communicating the joy of musical conversation to, or even with, the audience.

Christine Jensen was a confident leader and has the respect she deserves. Leading a band this big is like sailing a tall ship in mid-ocean. Christine Jensen is an experienced captain. She is comfortable facing the audience or the big band, but really there should be more fun in it – the pieces and the playing was technically brilliant, and full of heart – none of that was missing, I would have liked just a bit more joy in the seasoning.

Taking a break. Will be enjoying Curtis Nowasad (now from New York), and his band at Maws tonight.





[1] I notice there is another large aggregation playing at the festival led by Steve Kirby called a big band. During the year we have a season present ed by the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. I’m sure discussions of the differences between “orchestra” and “band” could go on for hours. New music composers often call the orchestra a band, and big bands are now often calling themselves orchestras.

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