Christine Jensen + Maggi Olin – Transatlantic Conversations: 11 Piece Band (2016)

Contemporary jazz big bands have long been on the endangered species list in North America; aside from Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue, nearly no one can name any other such going concerns even though many more do exist. However, these acts get a more receptive hearing on the other side of the Atlantic. Maybe that’s one reason why Montreal saxophonist Christine Jensen ventured across the ocean to join Swedish pianist and Nordic Connect band mate Maggi Olin for a sparkling set of live performances in Malmö, Sweden. Captured on this new release, Transatlantic Conversations: 11 Piece Band, this is — much like Schneider — taking orchestral jazz ideals established by Duke Ellington and Gil Evans and applying some forward-looking modernity and subtle incorporation of other styles.

It can’t be said that this is some whimsical foray into the large band format because neither women are strangers to it: Olin co-leads the Relay Orchestra with saxophonist Cennet Jönsson, and Jensen has cut a couple of records with her Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra. But the pooling of their resources that enables them to each select some of the best of their own material makes it impossible to find a song that’s lacking in sophistication and thoughtful melodic development. And all the while, it manages to walk that line between contemporary and throwback attitudes so delicately well.

For this gathering, ten instrumentalists were assembled, plus a vocalist, Sofie Norlin (David’s Angels). However, “11 Piece Band” is still an apt description, as Norlin’s voice is used on virtually every song as an extra wind instrument, wordlessly harmonizing the strain to illuminate it. She also provides lyrics often positioned at the beginning of songs, after which the music moves into different sections designed for featured soloists and orchestral maneuvers.

Highlights include the Monk inspired blues of the swinging “Orange,” the light Brazilian groove of “Red And Green”, the loose, jamming “Wink” (dig Fredrik Noren’s playful and funky trumpet) and the ballad “Swirl Around” where an extended rock-jazz middle section features the passionate, lyrical guitar of Torben Waldorff.

Supremely engineered, some applause is barely heard only on a couple of occasions after some particularly rousing solos, but otherwise you’d swear this was all captured in a sterile studio setting (the politeness of European audiences is another benefit of recording a live album there). Ultimately, though, this is about the composing and leadership talents of Jensen and Olin, who draw from a deep well of experience and the broad diversity of music styles to make a little magic one day in Sweden.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron