Smoke is a small and intimate jazz venue located on the Upper West Side. Boasting its own in-house label with CDs bursting with information that suggests that this is a labour of love (my review of Orrin Evans Liberation Blues set is here), it is becoming a must-visit for discerning jazz aficiandos.
While writing about the Evans album I was looking for a YouTube clip and used one featuring Ingrid Jensen performing as a guest with his band at Smoke. It was uncanny to discover that Jensen would be headlining during my short visit to New York this year.
Berkelee alumni, Jensen was accompanied by her sister Christine on alto and soprano sax (who apparently scores big band charts for fun) together with piano from Gary Versace, Mark Clohesy on drums and John Wikan on bass. They were joined by special guest, Joel Miller, on tenor sax.
I was there for the end of the second and the whole of the third set. I’m always alarmed when somebody produces a melodica. Although Augustus Pablo and Bernard Sumner of New Order have convinced me of its merits, I just can’t get beyond infant memories of a cruel nun at my primary school who played one to me and my fellow mixed infants when she was not slapping my ears with both hands. It’s fair to say I always squirm when I see that strange confection of an instrument!
In any event Jensen played a brief intro before unveiling a trumpet-led set that steered well clear of the stock standards that we often hear too much of in London. The band combined originals with a couple of covers including a Kenny Wheeler tune and the late Clark Terry’s Serenade to a Bus Seat.
Ingrid Jensen’s playing was wonderful. In a masterclass that you can seek out on YouTube she describes how she has worked to develop an approach to playing that is relaxed and upright (almost like Alexander Technique for the instrumentalist). Whatever she is doing, it works. I wasn’t surprised when she spoke with great admiration of great musicians including Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard who had welcomed her to join them on the bandstand when she was starting out. Her tasteful improvisation refreshes and really hits the spot. A self-penned tune entitled Margaretta was a highlight.
If you are in NYC, Smoke is well-worth a visit (I’ll be back again one day), although the three short sets a night from the headliner format is not one that I like. It’s also a little disappointing to watch a band of this calibre playing to an audience, many of whom are concentrating on food and the company they are with. All the same, the world-class Ingrid Jensen and her band merit an 8/10 on my patented performance rating scale, with the venue rating 7/10.
A good evening out was had.
The band: Ingrid Jensen [trumpet]; Christine Jensen [alto and soprano saxophones]; Gary Versace [piano] Matt Clohesy [bass]; Jon Wikan [drums]; Joel Miller (tenor sax), guest.