Guitarist and composer Chris Jentsch explores yesteryear through a jazz lens on his stirring new CD Topics in American History
Live recording of Chamber Music America commission hits all the right notes
Jentsch’s all-star Jentsch Group No Net features flutist Michel Gentile, clarinetist Michael McGinnis, saxophonist Jason Rigby, trumpeter David Smith, trombonist Brian Drye, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Jim Whitney, drummer Eric Halvorson, conductor JC Sanford
“(Jentsch) writes lavish suites – which he then plays with remarkable terseness and attention to detail. His narratives are vivid and often very funny. His latest, Topics in American History, couldn’t be more relevant.”
— New York Music Daily
“Chris Jentsch’s Brooklyn Suite was one of last year’s most satisfyingly ambitious jazz efforts.”
— Richard Gehr, Village Voice
The hour-long Topics, a result of a Chamber Music America/Doris Duke New Jazz Works commission, follows Jentsch’s previous highly-acclaimed large ensemble works including Miami Suite, Brooklyn Suite, and Cycles Suite. The new CD is a live recording of the Topics premiere, presented on December 2, 2016 at ShapeShifter Lab in Jentsch’s hometown of Brooklyn. Combining the immediacy and excitement of in-the-moment performance with Jentsch’s masterful musical vision, the recording features Jentsch Group No Net’s roster of extraordinary musicians: flutist Michel Gentile, clarinetist Michael McGinnis, saxophonist Jason Rigby, trumpeter David Smith, trombonist Brian Drye, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Jim Whitney, drummer Eric Halvorson, and conductor JC Sanford.
Jentsch’s large group music generally invokes contemporary improvisation with an eclectic mix of influences ranging from jazz to rock and world to classical, always striving for a careful balance between lyricism and dissonance, and a deliberate combination of complexity and simplicity. “1491,” the CD’s first track, brings us into Jentsch’s vision with the ensemble producing airy, gently percussive bell and bird-like sounds that capture a Caribbean beach at the dawn of European entry.
As the piece develops with a walking bass ostinato, interweaving horn lines, and plaintive, wandering flute, the sense of change to come is unmistakable. “Manifest Destiny” explores ideas about America’s spread across North America with a harmonically rich expansiveness that gives the soloists plenty of room to stretch out and explore. An animated full band statement announces “Lincoln-Douglas Debates,” which features raucous, spirited interplay between trumpet and trombone—the clear winner is the listener.
The suite closes with “Meeting at Surratt’s,” an homage to Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the United States government after Abraham Lincoln’s assassins plotted their crime at her boarding house. From the opening march cadence of the snare drum to the powerful anthem-like build that follows, the piece is a fitting conclusion to a superior jazz suite. The band is in top form throughout, with notable solos from the horns, flute, piano, and bass. Jentsch’s exemplary guitar playing presides over it all, with stunning effects, muscular lines, and consummate musicality.
Topics in American History by Christopher Jentsch and Jentsch Group No Net has been made possible with support from Chamber Music America’s 2015 New Jazz Works Program funded through the generosity of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
JENTSCH GROUP NO NET
Michel Gentile, flutes
Michael McGinnis, clarinets
Jason Rigby, saxophones
David Smith, Trumpet, flugelhorn
Brian Drye, tromboneJacob Sacks, piano
Jim Whitney, acoustic bass
Eric Halvorson, drums, percussion
JC Sanford, conductor
1 1491 11:36
2 Manifest Destiny 11:36
3 Lincoln-Douglas Debates 09:37
4 Tempest-Tost 09:12
5 Suburban Diaspora 07:26
6 Dominos 09:24
7 Meeting at Surratt’s 06:23
Chris Jentsch is a Brooklyn-based composer, bandleader, and guitarist working primarily in jazz and contemporary improvisational forms. Based in NYC since 1999, his main ensemble is Jentsch Group in its trio, quartet, nonet, or large configuration. As a composer he has been the recipient of grants, commissions, or fellowships from the Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble, the Penfield Commission Project, American Composers Forum, the Composers Assistance Program of the American Music Center, New Music USA, Meet the Composer, New York State Council on the Arts, Ucross Foundation, the Commission Project, the New Music Collective, the Donald Knutson Memorial Faculty Development Fund, and Chamber Music America/Doris Duke New Jazz Works.
As a bandleader and sideman Jentsch has worked with such diverse musical personalities as George Russell, John Cage, Maria Schneider, and Chris Wood. He appears as a guitarist on the CD John Cage, Volume 11. He is also featured in Scott Yanow’s book The Great Jazz Guitarists. All About Jazz says, “Jentsch is more than just a seasoned musician; he’s a composer who can convey his ideas on a grand scale.” Of Brooklyn Suite, DownBeat said that Jentsch “created a contrasted and kaleidoscopic patchwork with marvelous melodies, splendid voicings, and a skillful use of dynamics.” Jentsch has released five CDs as a leader: Media Event (1998); Miami Suite (1999); Brooklyn Suite (2007); and Cycles Suite (2009). Fractured Pop, a CD/DVD production featuring Jentsch’s jazz quartet was released in 2017. Jentsch attended the Berklee College of Music and has liberal arts and jazz guitar degrees from Gettysburg College, the New England Conservatory, and the Eastman School of Music.
He earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami in 1999 and is published by the University of Northern Colorado Press, Advance Music, and Fleur de Son Records.