Live reviews

Dispatches from Montreal (11) Christine Jensen Quartet at Upstairs/ FIJM 2023

Christine Jensen Quartet

(“Day Moon” Album launch. Upstairs, Montreal. 5 July 2023. Live review by Sebastian Scotney)

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Christine Jensen (centre) with Adrian Vedady and Jim Doxas. Photo credit : David Ingham

Some bleary-eyed logic coming here, the result of a week rushing to gigs (and avoiding roadworks) in this great city… please indulge me. First fact: some of my very best experiences down the years at the Montreal Jazz Festival have been at the delightful basement club Upstairs. Second fact: I have *never* been to a gig by Christine Jensen that has been anything less than exceptional – especially this absolute humdinger-and-a-half from 2019. Conclusion: for my last evening at the 2023 festival, there really was only one place to be: at the launch of Jensen’s new album “Day Moon” (Justin Time) at Upstairs. And yes, it was indeed a very special night.

Christine Jensen has explained in detail the circumstances that gave rise to the album. The pandemic brought feelings of isolation, and of not being able to “do what I’m supposed to do,” i.e. compose for large ensemble. “So,” she says, “I focused on my saxophones, teaching myself to present my sound, my solo voice. It’s almost like becoming the vocalist […] I had to shed the extra instrumentation that was always in my head.”

Working with fine pianist Steve Amirault, she says, “created a stable place for me.” Two other close, long-time musical associates from the Montreal scene, top-flight players, joined to complete this quartet, drummer Jim Doxas and bassist Adrian Vedady. These are friends, and the conspiratorial smiles which were being passed all around the band seemed like a hallmark of the evening.

So, if the backstory of this gig is about the consequences of and reflections about the pandemic, the music makes a different kind of statement, one of resilience, of joy. I note that the first two words I wrote down in my notes last night were “purposeful” and “positivity”, and the whole gig had that feel. It was like a necessary re-affirmation of a set of musical friendships. And of joy. And one thing cannot be repeated enough: the sheer quality of these Montreal jazz stalwarts really should be better known.

The whole gig flowed so well and with such assurance, but one tune in particular that has stayed with me is “Balcony Rules”. Technically, it is a contrafact on the standard “What Is This Thing Called love?”. But here’s the surprise: first one had better forget the age-old jazz joke that what you do with this tune is to add a comma between the words ‘called’ and ‘love’ (boom tish). No, what has happened here goes much deeper. The creativity and compositional craft which Christine Jensen and Steve Amirault (co-writers) have lavished on it are something amazing. They have written a wonderful tune with a particular swagger and attitude. Can a contrafact transfigure a standard and be a great tune in its own right? In this case, emphatically yes.

It also opens the door onto a very fine jazz album. There is another contrafact: “Like in Love”is based on “Like Someone in Love”. The sweetly lyrical “Tolos de Abril” is a Jobim tribute with amazing flow in the improvisation as each player takes their turn. It is also a jocular reminder that Jensen’s birthday is April Fool’s Day. And there is much more.

A final word about the club. I love Upstairs. Joel Giberovitch’s club in McKay Street has become something of a shrine for me, each visit a pilgrimage. Joel’s concept, as he once explained in an interview, is this: “I wanted to have a listening room. That to me was the most important thing. And to have a concert hall in a jazz club setting. […] The concept was great jazz club, respect for the music, respect for the musicians.” Amen to every single word of that.

L-R: Steve Amirault, Adrian Vedady, Christine Jensen, Jim Doxas. Photo David Ingham.

LINK: Day Moon at Justin Time Records

1 reply »

  1. I agreed I was also there ,what a launching great quartet Upstairs is my second home

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