Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Long-Awaited, Auspiciously Intense, Stripped-Down New Album from Guitarist Chris Jentsch

In keeping with the current paradigm, composer/guitarist Chris Jentsch writes a lot more than he records. But damn, when he records, he makes it count. It’s been eight years since Jentsch’s lavish, epic previous large-ensemble album The Cycles Suite. The one before that, The Brooklyn Suite, is his classic. His debut, The Miami Suite was a blast of sunshine with a hard-to-believe-we’re-all-here-but-let’s-do-it vibe. His latest album, Fractured Pop – streaming at youtube – is a departure, a quartet effort also available in a lush DVD package including “alternate takes, slide show music videos, a high-resolution FLAC file of the audio CD, PDF lead sheets of the tunes, and four of the composer’s own remix/mash ups,” as the packaging explains. Jentsch and his quartet are at I-Beam tonight, June 9 at 8:30 PM; cover is $15.

Jentsch sometimes evokes the angst and resonance of David Gilmour, the fluidity of Pat Metheny or the bucolic side of Bill Frisell, but ultimately he’s  his own animal. As a big band jazz composer, Jentsch has a welcome gravitas, but also a dry and sometimes droll sense of humor. The new album, a mix of new, stripped-down arrangements of Jentsch’s big band arrangements, has both. The quartet opens with the  title track, a rock anthem of sorts reimagined with in 7/8 time with Matt Renzi’s microtonally-tinged, Joe Maneri-ish sax over the swaying rhythm section of bassist Jim Whitney and drummer John Mettam. Radio Silence takes Abbey Road Beatles to new heights of poignancy and grandeur: Jentsch intermingles Renzi’s sax and his own chordal attack for an effect that evokes a much larger unit.

Likewise, the harmonies between Jentsch’s lingering chords and Renzi’s smoky sax in the strolling Are You Bye; Whitney adds a slinky, spot-on solo that Jentsch catapult out of, into the clouds and then to a wryly gospel-tinged variation on the main theme.  The almost ten-minute take of the haunting, iconic Outside Line, the first of the Brooklyn Suite numbers here, switches out the orchestra for Jentsch’s resonant, sometimes burning chords, Whitney’s growly,, gritty solo, Renzi channeling every ounce of danger and energy . For those who know the original, it’s a revelation, sort of the musical counterpart to a sketch for a JMW Turner battle tableau.

Renzi’s bass flute over Jentsch’s careful, bittersweetly judicoiuus chords imbue the jazz waltz Old Folks Song (from the Cycles Suite) with a more distantly haunting intensity, the bandleader’s enigmatic solo raising the angst factor by a factor of ten, up to the elegaic chromatics that wind it out.

Route 666 – a title that surprisingly hasn’t been taken as much as it could be – works sax/guitar tradeoffs along with Jentsch’s sunbaked, lingering lines over a jaunty 10/4 strut up to a big, emphatic, anthemic drive. Meeting At Surratt’s follows a gorgeous, almost conspiratorial pastoral jazz groove into the reggae that Jentsch has embraced in his most psychedelic moments, Renzi switching to bluesy cello.

Imagining the Mirror, a suspenseful track from early in the Brooklyn Suite, opens as a joyously focused take on bucolic Led Zep, then Renzi’s sax takes it back to Brooklyn and Jentsch’s eerily reverberating, sparely exploratory lines. Cycle of Life, another Cycles Suite track, has a squirrelly intro, Jentsch’s spare phrases intertwining with Renzi’s sax and bass clarinet multitracks and the rhythm section’s tropical, insectile ambience, an allusively grim study in echo effects building to a steady, syncopated stroll with artful guitar/clarinet exchanges.

The album winds up with Follow That Cab, a brisk, purposeful, rather blustery segment from the Brooklyn Suite,  reinvented here as stripped-down, bustling urban postbop, engaging Mettam’s drums far more, Renzi once again slipping into microtonal unease.

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June 9, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Banjo Player Jayme Stone Explores Lush, Global Jazz and Classical Sounds

Jayme Stone is the world’s most adventurous banjo player. His previous album World of Wonders explored music from across the centuries from Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Germany and Italy, to name a few places. His album before that was a collaboration with Malian Kora player Mansa Sissoko  As you might expect from someone with such a global appetite, the theme of his latest album The Other Side of the Air is travel. While the banjo is a featured instrument on several of the tracks, others focus more on Stone’s eclectic compositional skill. It turns out that he’s also adept at modern big band jazz and indie classical as well as the innumerable other styles he’s parsed over the years. Is there anything this guy CAN’T do?

What’s also interesting is that there’s hardly a hint of bluegrass here: more often than not, Stone’s banjo sounds more like an African lute – which, when you think about it, it is. A couple of tracks here revisit Stone’s African fascination, one a bounding number with  Rob Mosher on tenor sax, Andrew Downing on bass and Nick Fraser on drums, the other a catchy tune with echoes of both the blues and Malian folk, no doubt inspired by Stone’s work with Sissoko. The Cinnamon Route features Stone and the band along with a chamber orchestra, imagining the spice trade as it makes its way from India, through the Middle East, to North Africa. Kevin Turcotte’s trumpet gets a lively conversation going with the banjo as they cross the Mediterranean and reach anthemic heights.

The rest of the album mines a vivid third-stream milieu. Sing It Right, one of Stone’s first compositions, works an uneasy circus rock theme, Stone plinking steadily as the orchestra rises and falls, nocturnal and enveloping, Mosher adding jaunty soprano sax as the arrangement grows to a lush exuberance a la Chris Jentsch.  A Poet In Her Own Country makes a sharp contrast, an allusive, pensive  theme. exchanges of voices within its tight arrangement. Debussy Heights reminds more of Schubert with its triumphant baroque-tinged counterpoint and cinematically pulsing crescendo.

The album’s centerpiece is This County Is My Home. an even more cinematic, four-part concerto for banjo and chamber orchestra by Downing, who conducts. A droll but disquieting cartoonish theme recurs throughout its eclectic segments, including but not limited to a brisk but wary march, a bit of a ragtime stroll, minimalist banjo passages over nebulous strings and winds, a brief, apprehensive solo banjo interlude and a long, dynamically charged, blustery, carnivalesque coda. The other tracks here are Alexander Island, a  stately banjo-and-strings miniature, and a nocturnal version of the Tennessee Waltz, with just the banjo, rhythm section and sax. You want eclectic? Look no further. Stone and a somewhat smaller ensemble than he has on this album are at Joe’s Pub on Aug 11 at 7:30 PM for $15.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/26/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #675:

The Jentsch Group Large – The Brooklyn Suite

Hope it’s ok with you if we stay in Brooklyn for a second album in a row. A fiery, David Gilmouresque guitarist and composer, Chris Jentsch’s largescale works (this is his second, released eight years after his lush 1999 Miami Suite) are towering, majestic and sometimes absolutely creepy, blending elements of jazz, classical, rock and even reggae. This bustling, bracing, nocturnal suite for sixteen-piece big band essentially works variations on a wickedly menacing four-bar theme, first introduced with deadpan ominousness by a tenor sax and then eventually picked up with slasher intensity by the guitar and then the whole band. Altogether, the suite is one of the greatest pieces of noir music ever written. Solos from the horns and reeds are interspersed between movements, along with hypnotic, ambient passages that foreshadow the fireworks ahead. Tacked on afterwards here are a long, blazing samba-jazz tune and a playful reggae instrumental titled Our Daily Dread. A rigorous search didn’t turn up any torrents, but much of it is still streaming at Jentsch’s site, and it’s still available there. If you like this you may also enjoy Jentsch’s even more lush, psychedelic and frequently creepy Cycles Suite from 2009.

March 26, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Jentsch Group Quartet at Context Studios, Brooklyn NY 6/17/09

The Jentsch Group are shapeshifters in both senses of the word: sometimes jazz guitarist/composer Chris Jentsch’s project is a big band, sometimes much a smaller crew. This was a rare performance of a lean, stripped-down unit featuring Matt Renzi on saxophones, Jim Whitney of Andy Statman’s band on double bass and John Mettam on drums. Playing a captivating mix of both older and new, unreleased material from Jentsch’s forthcoming cd Fractured Pop, Jentsch revealed an uncanny ear for timbre, melodies taking on different shades and significance as they took on different permutations, passed between the band members. Jentsch likes variations on a theme and this show was full of them.

As someone influenced by Toru Takemitsu and Indian music as well as American styles, Jentsch also doesn’t let preconceived stylistic constraints get in the way. Was this rock, or was this jazz? It was both – if you can write in both idioms, why not? The first number started out pretty and jangly over some tricky changes but then straightened itself into a fairly straight-up indie rock instrumental over variants on the most basic blues riff, Renzi adding brightness before Jentsch took it into offhandedly biting David Gilmour territory with a solo of his own, then handing the reins back to the sax. Throughout the set, Jentsch used his volume pedal like an ebow, adding shades of sustain on the next number, a warm yet pensive melody in 6/8 that with its alternately stark and expressive permutations, one of them a latin guitar vamp, evoked Astor Piazzolla. A brief reggae interlude, Jentsch playing four on three, made for a playful diversion. 

Then they launched into the main theme from Jentsch’s 2007 album Brooklyn Suite, a genuine modern jazz classic. The central hook is a savagely descending four-bar theme that ranks with any other iconic melody you can imagine. It’s neither difficult to play nor to sing to yourself and hearing Renzi pick it up before Jentsch finally got its hands on it and tore it to shreds was something akin to watching B.B. King do The Thrill Is Gone…or seeing Coltrane work himself into a particularly inspired Giant Steps. It was that good. The album version is lush and sweeping: this four-piece edition gave the melody the opportunity to bare its fangs even further, unconstrained by the swells of the horns and reeds. Maybe to see if anybody was paying attention, Jentsch tossed in a familiar Eddie Van Halen quote (ok, it was Beat It) toward the end. They wrapped up the set with one of the more ambient, atmospheric parts of the Brooklyn Suite, a cut from the new Cycles Suite cd propelled with masterful subtlety by Whitney and closed with a world premiere, the apprehensive nocturne Are You Bye?, an opportunity for Mettam to add some expansive menace, which Jentsch explained afterward took not only its title but also its central chord progression from Bye Bye Blackbird. Considering that Jentsch doesn’t frequently play out, this was worth the trek to the Williamsburg waterfront and then some.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jentsch Group Large – Cycles Suite

Composer/guitarist Chris Jentsch specializes in modern big band jazz suites. This is his third, beginning with the 1999 Miami Suite, continuing with the riveting, haunting 2007 Brooklyn Suite – a bonafide 21st century classic – and now with the even more ambitious Cycles Suite. If the Brooklyn Suite was Jentsch’s Dark Side of the Moon, this is his Wish You Were Here. Built around a ferocious four-bar phrase that begins as a horn motif and gets more and more intense as it takes on new shapes and voicings, the Brooklyn Suite careens like a stolen taxicab barreling along a potholed Atlantic Avenue of the mind at 4 AM. It’s all tension and suspense, and the central hook is a melody that ranks with the best of them: Jumping Jack Flash, the Bach Toccata in D, Black and Tan Fantasy and any other iconic musical phrase you can imagine. Following up such an accomplishment is always difficult. This one is even longer, but it’s considerably different – where the Brooklyn Suite was savage and reckless, the Cycles Suite is thoughtful and expansive, cleverly referencing its predecessor in its darkest, most pensive moments. 

Jentsch owes a debt to both Steve Ulrich (of Big Lazy and innumerable film and tv soundtracks) and Bill Frisell. The opening cut here, Arrival is dark, skronky, distorted funk, sounding like Big Lazy with a horn section. The fifteen-minute second track, Cycle of Life is a suite in itself, shifting from languid and atmospheric into a tango, separated by a pointed tritone played by the horns. Home and Away, clocking in at almost twenty minutes has a similar architecture, opening with a jangly, pastoral Frisell-style guitar motif that melds with the band as they rise to a big, romantic crescendo, individual instruments lending their voices, fading in and out of the mix as the procession continues. Then a portentous echo of the Brooklyn Suite, Jentsch eventually taking over with an austere, round, slightly distorted guitar tone, the band working a comfortable Basie-esque riff evocative of neon, exhaust and maybe another round of drinks.

Darkness begins to fall with track four, Old Folks Song, the piano beginning it with a three-note chromatic hook straight out of Jentsch’s previous album, shifting to gritty reggae and then to wistfulness as the horns swell and fade. The delightfully titled Route 666, another mini-suite, kicks off with as much of a romping feel as an ensemble this size can muster, trumpeter Mike Kaupa pushing the revelry, such that there is. The rest alternates between quiet and skeletal and lushly ebullient, without any of the diabolical vibe alluded to by the title. The final cut, Departure brings back the suite’s two most resonant, poignant motifs and then lets them fall away somewhat abruptly yet aptly – after all, nobody gets to decide how they want to go out. In the big, lavish arrangements, the compositions’s often vividly melodic sensibility and some very inspired playing by an A-list of the New York jazz scene, there’s a lot to sink your ears into here. Headphones very highly recommended.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment