Jentsch Group Quartet - Fractured Pop 

by Bill Milkowski 

Over the past decade, Brooklyn-based guitarist-composer Chris Jentsch has been preoccupied with large ensembles. The commissions he received during that time from American Composers Forum and the NY State Council on the Arts resulted in 2007’s ambitious Brooklyn Suite and 2009’s Cycles Suite, both projects recorded with a 17-piece big band for the Buffalo-based Fleur de Son label. With Fractured Pop, his third release for Fleur de Son and fifth overall, Jentsch re-examines some of the same tunes that appeared on his large ensemble outings with a lean quartet consisting of tenor saxophonist-clarinetist Matt Renzi and longtime rhythm tandem partners Jim Whitney on double bass and John Mettam on drums. 

Tunes like “Old Folks Song” and “Cycle of Life” from Cycles Suite along with “Follow That Cab” and “Outside Line” from Brooklyn Suite are given a new suit of clothes on Fractured Pop, with the composer taking the liberty of overdubbing extra guitar tracks to introduce new colors and timbres to the proceedings. “The idea of Fractured Pop was to record like a rock record, where you get a good basic track of the tune and then decorate it with sound effects and guitar overdubs,” Jentsch explains. “I’m fine with a blowing session and I’ve done those myself. But I also like the idea of combining the blowing session with some overdubs and some other composer-related contrapuntal ideas -- more lines, more textures, more sounds. It’s something different, something I heard in my head. That combination is definitely what Fractured Pop is all about.” 

The title track, for instance (*press play at the bottom of this Web page), has a whole web of guitars, from acoustic strumming on the intro to clean electric lines played in unison with Renzi’s sax on the intricate head to Jentsch’s distortion-laced guitar solo. The moody and atmospheric “Radio Silence” also makes use of crafty guitar overdubs throughout. “It’s kind of a combination of ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘Whiter Shade of Pale,’” says the composer. “The descending Bach-like bassline modulates into several different keys, like ‘Giant Steps’ does. It’s a Pink Floydesque rock ballad with more modulations than you would hear on a Pink Floyd record.” 

“Are You Bye?,” Jentsch’s clever contrafact of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” is underscored by Mettam’s supple brushwork and culminates in some fiery call-and-response between sax and guitar at the tag. “That’s the most explicitly jazz thing on the record,” says Jentsch. “It’s definitely in the tradition. I’ve always loved playing standards and I have a handful of contracfacts that I’ve developed from well known standards.” 

The ECM-ish “Outside Line” floats over a mesmerizing arpeggiated ostinato while the beautiful ballad “Old Folks Song” is a calm, gentle melody featuring Renzi on alto flute and Jentsch on acoustic guitar, with Mettam on brushes and Whitney offering a lyrical, unforced bass solo in the midst of this meditation. The ambient soundscape that follows, “Old Folks Postlude,” is 7:42 of layered crickets and nature sounds recorded by Jentsch one evening while on an artist retreat at Ucross in a remote part of Wyoming. “Brian Eno is definitely an influence on that,” he confides. “His Music for Airports was a big thing for me when I was checking it out.”  

“Route 666,” a hard-hitting groover with angular lines, is fueled by bassist Whitney and sparked by a twisted distorto solo from Jentsch. “Meeting at Surratt’s” is a loping number with gentle acoustic guitar strumming underneath and some fluid electric figures on top. Tenor sax and distorted guitar lines weave together near the end of this piece, building to an ecstatic crescendo. 

The serene jazz waltz “Imagining the Mirror” involves some intricate layering of guitars that builds gradually to a dynamic peak while “Cycle of Life” is a spacey exploration that includes some conversational playing between Jentsch on guitar and Renzi on clarinet. And the collection closes with the urgent romp “Follow That Cab,” which contains an extended free blowing middle section inspired by the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet. 

An accompanying DVD, shot at Context Studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, provides yet another perspective on these 11 compelling tracks. 

-- Bill Milkowski 


Bill Milkowski is a regular contributor to Down Beat and Absolute Sound magazines. He is also the author of JACO: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius and co-author of Here And Now: The Autobiography of Pat Martino.