JENTSCH GROUP NO NET Topics in American History
We write again about jazz electric guitarist Chris Jentsch. It was the Fleur de Son CD/DVD Fractured Pop that was released last year but presented recordings from 2009. Now we have the latest Jentsch record from two live sessions (one in December 2016 and the other from January 2017), which are consolidated under the title Topics in American History [Blue Schist, 2018]. Weird title but the truth, of course, is also decisive not only for the non-musical concept of the album but also for the musician. I’ll explain…
First of all, Chris Jentsch is the head of Jentsch Group No Net, whose members are Michel Gentile, Flute; Michael McGinnis, Clarinet; Jason Rigby, Saxophones; David Smith, Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Brian Drye, Trombone; Jacob Sacks, piano; Jim Whitney, bass; Eric Halvorson, drums/percussion; plus conductor JC Sanford. This CD is based on a key issue: to convey through music some characteristic moments of American history, from the time of the discovery of the continent, to the more recent years, which have been shown to have a timeless meaning. Thus the point for the listener, and especially on the part of a non-American listener, requires a…mental dimension. To be able to correlate what he hears with the listed episodes of history.
The first track “1491" starts with somewhat free sounds that convey the image of a Caribbean beach just before being first approached by the Europeans. The development of the composition is exploratory in a natural way…magnificent.
The next track, almost twelve minutes, is called "Manifest Destiny". Here is a clear depiction of the expansion plans of the 19th Century Americans, who had already been considering that the whole of North America was their own. This sound is expressed by a low-scored music, somewhat slow in its development, with exquisite whirlwinds from the middle and beyond which obviously reveal the anxiety, but also the passion, the absurdity, so to speak, the inevitability and fervor for even more expansion and conquest.
In the 10-minute "Lincoln-Douglas Debates" we go back in time (1858) to the dialogue between the candidates for the state election in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln from the Republicans and Stephen A. Douglas from the Democrats. Lincoln lost that battle, but two years later he would defeat his opponent for the US presidency. The music established here by Jentsch sticks to an intense interactive ‘debate' format between trumpet and trombone, with brief interjected ensemble passages as the ‘moderator’.
"Tempest-Tost" is part of a phrase from Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus", which is imprinted on a bronze plate on the Statue of Liberty. Although I'm not entirely sure what Jentsch wants to declare with his music, I have to say that this piece is one of the most interesting compositions - a complex track, with a strong electric guitar presence, often reminiscent of classic progressive jazz recordings.
For "Suburban Diaspora", Jentsch notes that the piece is about "the idea that people who grew up in a US middle class suburb during the Baby Boom in post-war America (and then spread out to cities or rural areas) share a kind of cultural heritage. The composition is flexible, with nice places for various instrumental solos (guitar, flute, piano), as well as with gorgeous ensemble passages.
The penultimate track is titled "Dominos" and refers to the existential fears of the Cold War and the period of anti-communist hysteria associated with Senator McCarthy - when the well-known domino theory was formed. As a composition, “Dominos”, however, is quite "open" to Jentsch’s musical development and references.
Jentsch Group No Net's Topics in American History concludes with "Meeting at Surratt's". Here the issue is the case of Mary Surratt (1865) - the first woman to be executed in the US - who had been convicted of her involvement in the conspiracy and then of the murder of President Lincoln. Whether it was adjudicated rightly or wrongfully is something that even today raises debates. Jentsch’s composition, which is one of the most beautiful on the CD, moves into a folk-like cinematic environment, completing the very best of this very special album.