Christine Jensen gave was totally involved, whether playing or listening   ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Christine Jensen gave was totally involved, whether playing or listening ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Gary Versace
L'Astral
Montreal Jazz Festival
Monday, July 1, 2013 – 6 p.m.

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Sometimes it's wonderful to see musicians in new combinations, risking the unfamiliar. But sometimes familiarity not only has its charms, but leads to wonderful music.

Montreal saxophonist Christine Jensen invited what she referred to as “her closest musical friends and family” to play with her at her well-attended concert at L'Astral. She and her sister, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, wrote most of the compositions; they teamed up with three long-time musical friends: Gary Versace on piano and Fender Rhodes, Fraser Hollins on bass, and Jon Wikan (Ingrid's husband) on drums.

Christine joked that, because of Ingrid's packed schedule during festival season (including in Ottawa on Friday), they'd held their rehearsal at midnight the previous night. But they smoothly flowed into their first number, “Blue Yonder”, a piece Christine premiered in 2012.

Starting with slow echoing notes on bass and bright sparkling notes on piano, it quickly developed into a collaborative effort. Bass and drums provided an interesting (and non-repetitive) base over which trumpet and saxophone danced the melody, sometimes alternating, sometimes together. Ingrid's trumpet solos became steadily more vehement, as she played with her whole body and extended into the high ranges. When she finished the room erupted in strong applause.

Then Versace took over with a fast-paced, rollicking piano solo which became more exploratory, with repeated patterns switching between treble and bass. As his sound strengthened, the other musicians reentered strongly before the piece ended with a few notes on trumpet, which were then echoed on drums.

The group transitioned without a break into “Margareta”, the piece Christine wrote in honour of Maggi Olin, her and Ingrid's partner in their group Nordic Connect. This was a softer, more romantic ballad, interpreted sweetly and simply by each musician.

They then moved into “Dot and Braid” by Ingrid, dedicated to Christine (whose middle name is Dorothy) and to Toronto pianist David Braid. That started with Ingrid looping herself on muted trumpet, layering on repetitions until the saxophone came in lightly. With Versace alternating on Rhodes and piano, Ingrid's trumpet floated over all, and then started playing contrapuntal lines against the saxophone. Versace added fine high piano notes under the trumpet lines before the piece ended.

The fourth number was “40 Days” by Dave Brubeck, continuing the festival's tribute to the late pianist and composer. Ingrid noted that Brubeck wrote this piece in 1966, but “it sounds so hip and modern no one would know”. She said he heard a group including her play this piece – over a cellphone! – and loved it.

Versace came more into his own here, first filling in the melody on the Rhodes, becoming steadily more swinging and rich, and then moving to piano to produce bright, intense sequences of notes. Christine on alto and Ingrid on trumpet played together – sometimes complementary patterns, sometimes in unison – mostly underpinning the piano, but taking over the melody near the end. The audience responded with particularly strong applause.

Next came a newer piece which Christine introduced as her “first rock ballad”. In context, her next comment that she was joking made more sense: “Swirl around” started very lightly and continued exploratory. Even though there were certainly bluesy moments and some intense riffs, any piece that includes hand drumming and delicate vibrato on soprano sax is not really in the rock vein. It again showed how well all the musicians supported each other, and ended with Ingrid using mutes and effects to create what sounded like birdsong on her trumpet.

Christine played soprano sax throughout the last half of the concert, and showcased some lovely lines in duets with Ingrid in the last (unnamed) number. It was a strongly propulsive piece, with Versace's fingers practically bouncing off the keys at one point, and provided a strong ending to the concert.

Both the audience and the musicians would have been happy to have the concert last longer than 75 minutes. Christine said they had three hours of music in them – but the festival has very strict time restraints. What they played was well-balanced and allowed all the musicians to shine.

The audience greeted the end of the closing number with an immediate standing ovation, extended clapping, and a demand for an encore. Christine and Ingrid came out by themselves for the encore, a short duet of alto sax and trumpet playing Christine's composition, “Garden Hour”. Simple but anthemic in style, it was, as Christine said, a fitting tribute to Canada Day.

    – Alayne McGregor

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