One of the great delights of jazz is the way well-turned improvisations, even on the most familiar melodies, have a way of surprising us. But a live performance can also confound our expectations. What might we have anticipated from a professor of jazz trumpet at the Bruckner Conservatory of Music in Austria? Masterful control, of course; clean, well-articulated runs, nuanced phrasing, precision and clarity. From the fist bar, we were put on notice: all that and more, in configurations it would have been hard to imagine, let alone foresee. Ingrid Jensen started her set with a blistering, extended duet with drummer Tim Giles—and from there, into an intense quartet performance.
For a band that had only been performing for the length of Ingrid’s relatively short tour of the north, their coherence and shared musical agility was astonishing, especially because one of the key features of the music in both sets was its sheer rhythmic variety, with sharp turns, graceful swells and sudden pauses, and cross-cutting rhythms that could so easily have ended in a pile-up.
Every number had its surprises, most often in the form of some beautifully executed solo and duet work.
Much of the music was thickly textured, driven by Tim Giles. Polyphonic drumming has been a mainstay of jazz for many a year, but without good musical judgment and keen responsiveness, it can overwhelm other players. Not so here: the colours and textures he produced were integral to the band’s sound; and when he cut loose, he still held his intense musicality. Bass player Andy Champion demonstrated what accomplished bowing technique can add to a jazz performance—his contributions especially pronounced in some of the more abstract and experimental interludes. More conventionally, his playing is distinguished by a technique that is as fleet as it is powerful and resonant.
The guitar playing of Jez Franks was a show in itself. He combined melodic invention worthy of John Abercrombie, together with that combination of power and a ‘how’d he do that?’ command of the fretboard that one readily associates with John Scofield—and all with a voice still his own. And although he can melt a chord into next week, the audience thrilled as much to his playing on the more intense numbers, whether at the extreme of the guitar’s upper register or providing a powerful backing for Ingrid’s trumpet.
Who might have guessed that the trumpet could exhibit so many different tonal qualities? And who could have expected to hear them in a single performance? Ingrid Jensen employed the familiar range of mutes, but also made deft and often subtle use of electronics—repeats, loops, distortions—and, most memorably, a carefully controlled echo effect, which made her long notes seem as though they were arcing over the horizon, to be met by Andy Champion’s gentle figure played on the harmonics of the bass. There were many such moments—and for all that the music was often electric and hard-driving, there were also many spacious passages, which showed each of the musicians to further advantage.
By the end, the audience was shouting for more; and for an encore, the band invited tenor player Riley Stone-Lonergan to join them. A ‘vamp’—Ingrid’s description—seemed a remarkably pale way of describing this roof-raiser. It was a sensational end to an evening of riveting music. This band’s element was fire: hot, intense—and brilliant.
© J.Whitman 4th June 2016