Sunday, February 12, 2017

Heading a quintet, Canadian sisters Jensen explore "Infinitude" in new CD

Ingrid and Christine Jensen commit to a personal outlook with "Infinitude."
"How are we going to dive into his pool and swim together?" is the question Christine Jensen posed on behalf of herself and sister Ingrid as they approached the small-group CD project that's just been issued: "Infinitude" (Whirlwind Recordings).

The Canadian sisters — saxophonist and trumpeter, respectively — in fact keep their heads above water, and dive deep when they feel like it, in these ten tunes, most of them originals. To continue the water analogy, however, there is some drifting toward the end of the CD. So I re-listened to "Infinitude" in a couple of separate sessions to make sure it wasn't just my attention that was drifting in the last few tunes.

I want to get the discouraging words out of the way quickly, because I believe "Infinitude" presents a fresh, unified vision, with an intimacy that would be evident even if this quintet's front line weren't so closely related. And the other three musicians display particular sensitivity to that vision, especially guitarist Ben Monder. Bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Jon Wikan (Ingrid's husband) complete the group. Everyone sounds at home in the sisters' atmosphere.

But "Hopes Trail" is both glum and bombastic, and "Trio: Garden Hour" features intrusive guitar mutterings around Ingrid's melody line. "Margareta" kicks up somewhat, giving its waltzing blandness a little extra flavor. That segues into "Dots and Braids," whose overlong introduction eventually yields to a theme where a pulse establishes itself with an odd reluctance.

That takes care of the last four cuts; the first six find the five-way rapport more creditably deployed. "Blue Yonder" has a floating theme that introduces Christine's sax, meandering but in a firm, inner-directed manner and exhibiting an easy command of different registers. Monder's guitar sounds like a mysterious sound emanating from a cave — and I mean that in the best sense; it fits.  "Swirlaround," another Christine original, swirls around slowly but with a firm sense of direction; it's a gentle maelstrom. There's a little more blur from the guitar than suits my taste, but the piece holds up well, and features fine playing from Ingrid.

Ben Monder's "Echolalia" is a spirited number, with more good Ingrid, plus Monder at his most cogent. Christine's "Octofolk" finds the composer and Monder mutually inspiring one another, but what does it say, finally? I found it a foreshadowing of the disappointments in the last half of the disc. "Duospace" provides the best exhibition of the group's admirable trumpeter, and "Old Time," a Kenny Wheeler tune, is perfectly placed to show that this band can rare back and get a down-home groove going. The piece fits well within the overall ensemble concept, nonetheless, and is particularly welcome before the program threatens to bog down.

 "Infinitude" may not have horizons quite as wide as its title implies, but it searches those horizons with a solid commitment to making new discoveries and personalizing the world it finds.

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