Category Archives: Ingrid Jensen

Ingrid Jensen live at Smoke NYC. 13 June 2015


A short trip to New York has provided the opportunity to follow up on a tip from the esteemed Jazz Collector (the American one, not our own LJC).

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.

(Image hopefully non-copyright- if so I’ll remove immediately on notification)

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.


Liberation Blues: Orrin Evans

Orrin Evans

We are well into February and the end of winter is in sight. Indeed, I have planted some Oriental Lily bulbs And Double Freesias this very afternoon. It’s also time for my monthly review of a contemporary set and, hopefully it is something that readers will enjoy rather more than last month’s disappointing selection which featured Troyka.

Orrin Evans is a New York based pianist (born in Philadelphia in 1976). Recorded live at Smoke on New York’s Broadway (I had to write that as I used to live on Cardiff’s very own Broadway) in January 2014, it has just been issued on the in-house label Smoke Sessions. We’ll be paying Smoke a visit a little later in this review.

I choose contemporary sets in all sorts of ways. This one comes our way via a two-stage process. I’m a regular visitor to Jazz Collector‘s website. This largely concerns itself with monitoring the trade in eye-wateringly expensive early pressings of classic Jazz albums. Recently Jazz Collector wrote about a live performance at Smoke, which is not far from his NYC home. It’s over 20 years since I was last in NYC and the only Jazz club I’ve been to in the home of modern Jazz is Blue Note (where I saw Issac Hayes), so it was great to get a hot tip from a local. Apparently Gregory Porter was a regular fixture there until fame beckoned. Then, in early January when I was scouring the reviews in Jazzwise for a lead, I came across this set. A very positive 4 star endorsement contained the news that this was recorded at Smoke and that sealed my immediate order from an online retailer.

What have we got then? Orrin Evans plays this live set, largely with a quintet context with trumpet and saxophone. The first five tracks are grouped together as The Liberation Blues Suite and are performed as a musical tribute to Dwayne Allen Burno, a bass player and friend of Evans who passed away in late December 2013, a couple of weeks before this recording.

The opener, Devil Eyes, is a Burno composition and great lively blowing piece to kick off with.

Juanita, a cool ballad, is the next track up and as a special surprise, and while it is still on YouTube, why don’t we all jump all jump on my Lear Jet and make our way to grab our seats right down front at Smoke at the launch party for Liberation Blues in August 2014. Ingrid Jensen replaces Sean Jones on trumpet for this live rendition of a second Burno tune.

To play touch or click on the arrow

A Lil’ D.A.B. A do Ya zaps along before we arrive at the contemplative A Free Man? in which Evans delivers fellow pianist Donald Brown’s heartfelt musings on freedom, from slavery in the lyric (though Evans speculates in the sleeve notes that in an afterlife, his friend, Dwayne Allen Burno, is truly free of the pain and limitations caused by the kidney disease which led to his early death. Liberation Blues closes this section of the recording.

Simply Green, one of Orrin Evans own pieces is the sort of performance that elevates this live music from a NYC Jazz club into something that is outstanding. If we had actually been there on one of the recording nights, I’m sure what we witnessed would be unforgettable. Anysha, a beautiful ballad, sourced from Philadelphia organist Trudy Pitts, is every bit as good.

Meant To Shine is the final Evan’s penned item here and it is a further late-night piece, crafted with consummate skill. Paul Motian’s Mumbo Jumbo has a modern and complex beat, which the band play as a challenge, just for musicianly fun and it works well in this context. The sax and trumpet sit out for How High The Moon, which is the standard tune that Charlie Parker borrowed the chord changes for Ornithology from. Miles Davis’s The Theme also played by the piano, bass and drums trio, closes the set before the band are brought back, deservedly. They are joined by vocalist Joanna Pascale for a rendition of The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.

When I finally get to see a performance at Smoke, I’ll tell you all what I think and if you get there first let us know if it is a good as it sounds. In the meantime, Liberation Blues captures all the quality of a great club set that just whets the appetite for a visit. Thanks for the tip Jazz Collector and Jazzwise!

The band etc: Sean Jones (trumpet); JD Allen (trumpet); Orrin Evans (piano); Luques Curtis (bass); Bill Stewart (drums); Joanna Pascale (vocals on final track). Recorded live: 10 & 11 January 2014 at Smoke, New York City. Recorded and Produced by Paul Stache. Sleeve Design: Damon Smith. Photography: Jimmy Katz. Issued on Smoke Sessions, SSR-1409. 2014.