Here on Earth
The notes quote Ms. Jensen, a very tall blonde and handsome Canadian now playing trumpet and flügelhorn even better than on this 1996 set: the pianist here, George Colligan, is the most gifted person she knows. That doesn’t seem to be idle talk, though I’ve not been blessed with the chance to hear Colligan in the flesh more than once: with Joe Temperley and England’s multi-reed prodigy Alan Barnes in a Festival group deprived by illness of Clark Terry. Oddly enough, the only live gig I’ve attended with Ms. Jensen had the same two men plus Temperley’s fellow Scots Brian thirtyfingers Kellock on piano, and the heavyweight tenorist Phil Bancroft (whose brother, Dr. Tom, runs the interesting Caber recording company)—with, among others, Bobby Watson as leader reviving his Hodges-Strayhorn tribute music to mark the 1999 Ellington centenary.
Beside what he does on the present CD, Colligan demonstrated still more of what’s worth doing as a jazz pianist. He sits at the piano—the booklet has a striking photo of his characteristic position—as if he had more options than most of us would believe possible. More time to consider yet stay not unspontaneous. While by contrast Ms. Jensen wasn’t perfectly idiomatic in Watson’s neo-Ellington music, she impressed mightily. The notes here associate her own thing with the late Woody Shaw. That night nearly five years ago she had a few people asking would they rather have a merely good trumpeter who fitted perfectly, or one who short of the impossible seemed the best player around. It was very interesting, and the music staggeringly good.
On this set she’s the leader, not the standout. Beside her startling acclaim for Professor Colligan, there’s her reminiscence in the notes of having been entirely overcome by a live performance from Gary Bartz. His playing here makes clear that she isn’t kidding. At times on the quintet, items with Bartz and Colligan you can feel how hard the trumpeter’s working, keeping up with these masters.
Bill Stewart on drums is potent in the opener, Colligan’s “Shiva’s Dance”, and the quartet is remarkably together. Dwayne Burno’s bass-playing is a big point of the second title; Ms. Jensen’s “Woodcarvings” (named for Woody Shaw) turns out an especially good vehicle for Bartz’s soprano. He’s magnificent on alto in the title track, as soloist and in setting things up for the leader’s solo. Colligan establishes his credentials as colourist, and on Bill Evans’s “Time Remembered” is also worth note. Ms, Jensen has provided decent lyrics for this composition, sung by Jill Seifers. Ms. Jensen seems to have set up this performance to challenge herself as a flügelhorn player: to try to match the singer’s expressive resources, beauty, and personal expressive vocal power.
Colligan’s reharmonisation of “You Do Something to Me” is a very interesting essay. In ensemble the horns function like extra parts within the pianistic conception, relaxed and supported. The principal dedicatee of the set is the late Mercedes Rossy (1962-1995), pianist, composer, and much missed friend of the leader and the pianist here, who duet on Ms. Rossy’s “Ninety-One” on flügelhorn and piano. Jill Seifers has a second (wordless) vocal appearance on the now veteran Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s “Consolation”. Wheeler can, I recall, play almost anything. The leader’s sister, Christine Jensen, composed “Fallin’”, one of the titles on which Colligan uses Fender Rhodes.
I like this band’s way of trading (or passing on parcels of) fours—and contrapuntal duetting. I relish the interaction between Duane Burno’s bass and Colligan’s Fender Rhodes. Can a double bass fall in love with an electronic keyboard, give it a soul like something out of a folktale? Hank Mobley’s “Avila and Tequila” was a good choice to explore the palette of this group’s music and extend its applications. Ms. Jensen talks of life as a sequence of new meetings and encounters, and a keen aspect of musical depth in jazz is an appreciation of musicians who fall short of giant, or immensely different, but whose music embodies an individual personal vision. Thus Mobley. The imaginative choice of material also runs to “The Time of the Barracudas” without Bartz. With Colligan on Fender Rhodes, it explores the more free-blowing Saturday Night Orchestra approach of its composer, Gil Evans, rather than the tonal refinements of the tune’s premiere. Few recorded programmes represent such plain learning experiences as this seems to have been for Ingrid Jensen. Her preparation is impeccable, and so is her resolve to do much, much better than play safe.