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Music Review: Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra – ‘Habitat’

Habitat, released in March, is the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra’s follow-up to its 2010 Juno award winner, Treelines. It is large ensemble concert jazz in the tradition of Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton, but concert jazz with a voice all its own. Christine Jensen writes and orchestrates all the music on the album, leads and plays, on this disc, the soprano sax. Pointing out that she likes to focus her work around a theme, the common tie between the six pieces on this album is a rather loose connection to places with some personal significance for her. The ties are…

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Summary : This is an outfit with an orchestral sound second to none.

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Habitat, released in March, is the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra’s follow-up to its 2010 Juno award winner, Treelines. It is large ensemble concert jazz in the tradition of Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton, but concert jazz with a voice all its own. Christine Jensen writes and orchestrates all the music on the album, leads and plays, on this disc, the soprano sax. Pointing out that she likes to focus her work around a theme, the common tie between the six pieces on this album is a rather loose connection to places with some personal significance for her. The ties are treated very broadly in practice, with the opening track written as a commission from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln jazz orchestra back in 2010, and the closing effort related to a Fort Greene, Brooklyn apartment of her sister, Ingrid.

ChristineJensen-pochette-410x410If such a loose thematic connection helps the artist to produce the kind of musical journey Jensen takes on Habitat, more power to her. Whatever it takes.

Oddly, while there is no composition called “Treelines” on the album of that name, “Treelines,” it turns out, is the first track of this new album. It features swinging elements connected by solo lines from sister Ingrid.

The main theme of “Tumbledown” was written when Jensen heard about the Haitian earthquake and captures her memories of playing there with her quartet in 2007 and 2008. Solo work on the piece comes from Joel Miller on tenor sax and Jean-Nicolas Trotter on trombone. Also inspired by a tour south of the border (Canadian and U.S. as well), were the Afro-Latin rhythms of “Blue Yonder” with Samuel Blais featured on the baritone sax.

“Nishiyuu,” she explains, was inspired by a protest trek of 1500 kilometers by six Cree young men intended to raise attention to first nation problems in Canada. The soloist here is Chet Doxas on tenor sax, and she sees him as a kind of guide, with “his solo” rallying “the band from the first vision theme to the end of the journey.”

“Intersection,” one of her earliest pieces for large ensembles, is a sound portrait of The Main, a hub of Montreal street culture, and the album concludes with the sisters taking the solo stage with “Sweet Adelphi,” the Brooklyn apartment celebration.

This is a band with an orchestral sound second to none. It is rich. It is inventive. The Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra is a powerhouse.

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