Review: Ingrid Jensen Quintet

By Josh McDonald, Burlington Writers Workshop

At its best, jazz is one of the more playful genres of music. Many of the greatest, most influential jazz artists – people like Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong – always came across as having a lot of fun and never taking things too seriously. At times modern jazz can lose itself in theory and technique and lose that sense of play – but Ingrid Jensen’s performance at the Flynn Space was not one of those times.

Jensen began her first solo not by blowing into her trumpet (the usual way to get a sound out of the instrument), but by tapping her hand against the mouthpiece to create little percussive squirts of sound. It’s the kind of thing I used to do as a kid when I was bored with my own trumpet practice – playing around and finding out how many different ways I could make weird sounds with the horn. The fact that it never occurred to me that this could be a legitimate performance technique may be part of the reason someone like Ingrid Jensen became an international jazz performer and I didn’t.

In a recent interview on the Orpheus Jazz website, Ms. Jensen alluded to the influence her young daughter has had on her own musicianship.

Between the Star Wars iTunes radio station and the music from Ice Age 2 we have a pretty crazy house. Not to mention the instruments everywhere that she is picking up and playing all the time. From sticking her head in the piano to hear elbow chords resonate via her latest discovery of the sustain pedal, to blue pocket trumpet jams and more. MUCH fun.

I was reminded of this interview when at one point Jensen turned her back on the microphone to play instead into the sounding board of the grand piano. At other times she would use a sequencer – an electronic recording device which let her loop and repeat passages, overlap and layer her sounds. Whether it was her child’s influence or her own artistic predilection (or some combination of the two?), the result was a playful exploration of sound.
Ingrid shared the stage and the spotlight with her sister, saxophonist Christine Jensen. They tossed melodies and solos back and forth, and they alternated between pieces Christine had written and those Ingrid had composed.
At one point Ingrid told the story of arriving in Burlington, each sister with a five-year-old daughter in tow. The two girls ran to greet each other with a great big hug, “and then they went back to being five.” Watching and listening to the Jensen sisters play together on stage, one gets the idea that these women have never fully lost the sense of what it is to play together when you’re five.