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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Ingird & Christine Jensen. Photo by Randy Cole.

Come on, people, seriously,” was Ingrid Jensen’s reaction when she recently googled her name and found herself described as ‘Hard Bop Trumpet Player.’ Both Ingrid and her sister-saxophonist Christine have been pushing against assumptions and stereotypes throughout their brilliant and ever-changing careers. Through Infinitude, their latest release, the Jensens endeavor to give a sound to “the concept of boundless possibility.” With raw, empathetic interaction, the Jensens have created a powerful quintet, rounded out by Ben Monder on guitar, Fraser Hollins on bass, and drummer Jon Wikan. The Jazz Gallery recently spoke with Ingrid over the phone, who was returning from an educational tour and a residency with the Purdue University Big Band. We discussed her and Christine’s vision for the project, their expansive collaborative sound, and the nature of their musical relationship.

The Jazz Gallery: How did a quintet come to mind? Is five the ideal number for the kind of interaction you were envisioning?

Ingrid Jensen: Nope. A trio is the ultimate [laughs]. Or even a quartet. But in this case, because of who we are together, it can feel just like that, a trio. Or a big band. Because what Christine and I have is one voice that branches out into two. Or three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. A lot of sounds come out of what we do. A lot of possible ideas can turn into a unison sound or a full orchestral sound, because of where our minds and ears can meet up in relation to the incredible trio playing with us, Ben, Fraser, and Jon.

TJG: Over the years, how have you and your sister worked to cultivate this unified voice?

IJ: It’s a series of relationships, layered on top of one another. Christine and I have a long relationship, many years of hanging out, listening to music, talking and sharing advice. My husband is on drums as well. There’s just a lot of stuff we don’t have to talk about when we play together, because it’s already there. There’s an inevitability. We know something’s going to happen, but we don’t know what. There are stakes, there’s a layer of trust within whatever direction we choose to go as an organism. It’s about what the muse decides to do when we start playing together. The choices are wide, but there’s a little bit of direction and orchestration.

TJG: Was that trust uniformly present on the album while you were recording in the studio? Or were there moments when you had to talk about some things more than others?

IJ: There were little organizing moments, like “Oh, let’s add another four bars here so when you guys trade it works out more evenly,” little things like that. Rarely were there discussions like “No man, that’s not the groove,” or “Hey, I think I want more of this.” That never happened. It was just, “Wow, that was that tune. Let’s try the next one and see what happens.” A lot of the album was first takes, maybe second. It was one of those records where at the end, even though we were exhausted because we did it all in one day after touring, we felt like we had more than enough material to choose from, even too much. It was a good problem to have.

TJG: While drafting the album and thinking about what you’d play, what you’d write, the other musicians, how did you maintain such a unified voice while drawing compositions from different sources?

IJ: It just happened. The tune of Ben’s we really wanted to do was something we had heard on Ben’s record, which has a vocal part. Christine and I took over the vocal parts with our collective sound. We recreated another version of an already-great tune. That’s probably what we put the most time into, in terms of how to adapt and play the vocal part without ruining it. It’s just a great tune. The rest of the music, I had been working on the rest of the music, and I felt it was time to try it, especially because the band was so open. It fell into place. And then the Kenny Wheeler tune. It all just really organically fell into place without much discussion at all.

TJG: From the start, how did Ben Monder get involved?

IJ: Christine had many visions of us playing together, even before I had thought of it. Christine had stopped playing with Maria Schneider’s Orchestra three or four years ago, and had been playing more small group. Christine said, “Now is the time for us to do this Ben project,” because she’d always had it in her head that Ben and I would play beautifully together. With her music and dry alto sound, versus my electronic stuff and Ben’s reverb’d, rich, lush world, it created a separate trio sound distinct from the rhythm section trio. My sister has good ideas. She’s really smart [laughs].

TJG: So right from the start, you were able to fully integrate his sound and approach, even though the musical relationship between you and your sister is already so strong?

IJ: Yeah, absolutely.

TJG: Was it the same with Fraser and Jon?

IJ: Yeah, those guys are like dirty old shirts that you can throw on. You take your favorite dirty old shirt out of the laundry and say “I’m gonna wear it again, it’s just too good” [laughs]. They fit together amazingly, they have a deep history, touring, playing in big bands, hanging out and eating good food, listening to good music. The relationships are great, it’s not just a momentary experience but instead it’s “Oh good, we get to do this again. What next?”

TJG: What kind of good food?

IJ: Well when you’re in Montreal, there’s endless good food, whether it’s out to eat or cooked in someone’s home. A lot of times, we’d go out, have a lot of great laughs. A lot of great Ethiopian food.

TJG: On this album, with the concept of Infinitude, you’ve taken the concept of boundless infinity and put a sound to it. In doing so, what were some of your usual musical constraints that melted away on this project? What did this album allow you to do that was out of the ordinary?

IJ: Hopefully, not still be labeled as ‘hard bop trumpet player’ [laughs]. I googled something on myself yesterday, and the first thing that comes up is “Ingrid Jensen, Hard Bop Trumpet Player.” I’m like, Come on, people, seriously. This has gone on forever, and I’ve just given up on trying to get out of this hard-bop sound. I guess it’s because I play some be-boppy lines sometimes? But that’s just one spice in the whole spice drawer. I don’t think about that when I play, I just find it funny and pretty ironic that I’m showing up with loopers and delays and wah pedals, trying to be more of a guitar player than a trumpet player. I don’t even play a stock trumpet anymore. I play a Monette, which is basically a different instrument. So, my constraints come down to whatever my preconceptions might be. I don’t really care that much about the labeling, especially in a room with those guys. I have to be myself, I have to be more myself than myself, so there’s no bullshit. Not a lot of constraints, is the answer.

TJG: You said the sound in your head is more that of a guitar player than a trumpet player: It must be exciting to be playing with a guy like Ben Monder.

IJ: It’s humbling. I know the sound in my head could be dumb, but he loves it. “Man, that’s awesome,” he’ll say. He’s really open to whatever’s coming at him. He just wants to shape it in his Ben Monder way, make it even more beautiful.

TJG: So at this upcoming Jazz Gallery show, it’s the same crew, except for Matt Clohesy on bass. 

IJ: Yeah. And Matt’s played this music with me in different formats over the years, so Matt’s another scuffed up old shoe that we’ve thrown into the luggage [laughs].

TJG: Aside from the personnel change, how else do you anticipate The Jazz Gallery show being different from the album?

IJ: How will it be different? It just will be. The record is in the can, it is what it is. When we play the music live, there’s potential for tunes to be longer, things to be shorter, different sections, trading. It’ll be up to the moment, the feeling in the room.

TJG: Did Infinitude plant seeds for future projects?

IJ: We’ll be touring Canada, and we’ve got quite a few European festivals asking us to come out in the next year, year and a half. We’re already contracted for the Berlin Jazz Festival in November. The reviews have been complimentary. I feel particularly relaxed about this record, because I know that we made beautiful music together. On top of that, people seem to really be enjoying it, which is a bonus. And the Ben Monder fans get a little taste of ‘Ben going acoustic.’ When he plays for the Jensen sisters, it brings out another facet of his personality, because we have such a special relationship with him.

TJG: It’s a great album, and we’re looking forward to hearing you at the gallery.

IJ: Thanks! I’m psyched to do it right. This room and the Gallery crowd are conducive to good music.

Ingrid & Christine Jensen’s Infinitude project plays The Jazz Gallery on Friday, February 17th, 2017. The group features Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, Christine Jensen on alto saxophonist, Ben Monder on guitar, Matt Clohesy on bass, and Jon Wikan on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $22 general admission ($12 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.