Jentsch Group No Net

Topics in American History
Blue Schist CD 004

Part of a burgeoning but underpublicized coterie of composer/players exploring the promises of orchestral perceptions for limited ensembles, is New York guitarist Chris Jentsch. While others may concentrate on bravura soloing and/or uncomplicated rhythms, Jentsch’s focus on this seven track CD is assembling narratives so that many more voices than the listed nine are heard or sensed. In this way Jentsch suggests the 1950s small big band experiments by the likes of Gigi Gryce or Teddy Charles whose arrangements encompassed polyphonic heft but not at the expense of hard-driving rhythm.

Topics in American History is in that elusive lineage, while Jentsch uniquely bolsters the idea by linking each of the tracks to an episode, famous or not, that helped define present-day United States. Arranged properties not agit-prop are paramount however, so the set’s pleasure derives from noting how well the pieces hang together and how the musicians excel. Made up of a clutch of top Manhattan players, rhythmic impetus comes from pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Jim Whitney and percussionist Eric Halvorson; the front line is trumpeter/flugelhornist David Smith, trombonist Brian Drye, flutist Michel Gentile, clarinetist Michael McGinnis and saxophonist Jason Rigby, with J.C. Sanford conducting.

Halvorson’s percussion prowess on everything from glockenspiel to vibes is most prominent on the introductory “1491”, while his blunt drum beats define “Suburban Diaspora”. On each of these bucolic or busy tunes, he’s the rhythmic monitor underscoring pastoral flute airs and primordial brass flourishes on one track and scene-setting piano licks and finger-style guitar elaborations on the other. However the heart and highpoints of the disc occur on expositions like “Lincoln-Douglas Debates” and “Dominos”. Bright 19th century marching band emulations from the brass initially define the first tune, although the sophisticated arrangement creates a build up to echoing, Blues-inflected guitar frails, serrated trombone growls and trumpet smears, plus a piano narrative that climaxes in a slowly unfolding tutti finale, “Dominos” personifies the post-World War Two confusion and failed Cold War suppositions with the face-off among stinging Rock music-styled guitar, piano sequences that move from romantic to high-quality swing, plus a sinewy tenor saxophone solo, all of which take place as pointillist timbres from the other instruments wriggle enough to sum up a complete polyphonic creation.

Musically if more attention would be paid to crafting mature sound-stories then Jentsch achievement here would be justly celebrating.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 1491 2. Manifest Destiny 3. Lincoln-Douglas Debates 4. Tempest-Tost 5. Suburban Diaspora 6. Dominos 7. Meeting at Surratt’s.

Personnel: David Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn); Brian Drye (trombone); Michel Gentile (flutes); Michael McGinnis (clarinets); Jason Rigby (tenor and soprano saxophones); Jacob Sacks (piano;) Chris Jentsch (guitar); Jim Whitney (bass); Eric Halvorson (drums, percussion) and J.C. Sanford (conductor)