JazzPress - Katarzyna Idźkowska
Topics in American History…
…is a collection of seven long, carefully refined, diverse and disturbing compositions. Their creator Chris Jentsch in an unusual way combines complexity and simplicity, placing his music here in a specific historical context.
Chris Jentsch is a guitarist and composer from Brooklyn. As a leader, he has six albums. Since 1999, his main ensemble is Jentsch Group. He worked with various well-known figures in the music world, including George Russell, John Cage, and Maria Schneider. Jentsch has a liberal arts and jazz education. He graduated from the New England Conservatory and Eastman School of Musics. He also has a history degree from Gettysburg College. The culmination of his education is the DMA degree in musical arts from the University of Miami.
Chris Jentsch, however, is no academic in his approach to expressing himself through music. He is more than just a sophisticated musician - he is a composer who can convey his ideas on a large scale. This is the latest CD for which he has created a music full of contrasts, and kaleidoscopic mosaics with marvelous melodies and interesting rhythm. Topics in American History was recorded live on December 2, 2016 at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn, where Jentsch decided to premiere his interpretation of the seven historical events that took place in his home country. He takes his listeners to an emotional, carefully thought-over journey referring to America’s past. As he wrote: “In learning about music there is always the historical aspect". Therefore - for the first time in his understanding - he has merged what he learned from his study of music with his general interest in American history.
Jentsch’s vision was realized by a team of great musicians: flutist Michel Gentile, clarinettist Michael McGinnis, saxophonist Jason Rigby, trumpeter David Smith, trombonist Brian Drye, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Jim Whitney, the percussionist Eric Halvorson and the conductor JC Sanford. We hear in their performance improvised music containing an eclectic mix of many trends - from jazz, through rock, to classical music.
The opening track, “1491”, is a picture of a virgin Caribbean beach at the dawn of the influx of Europeans to America. At the beginning of the song, bird songs and a glockenspiel are intertwined. Already in this piece you can hear how skillfully Jentsch maintains the balance between lyricism and dissonance and how consciously he sets complexity against simplicity.
A very important piece is “Dominos”, which evokes the absurdities of the Cold War era of the 1950s. It is a poignant piece in which the main role is played by Jentsch with a distorted guitar solo. The album finishes with the great piece “Meeting At Surratt’s". The group created a conspiratorial atmosphere, recalling the story of Mary Surratt - the first woman in US history who was convicted and executed on the gallows, though she may have been innocent. The song is reminiscent of the film compositions of Ennio Morricone, and the whole is complemented by the macabre riff of Jentsch's guitar.
Wrote the NewYorkMusicDaily: “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.”
I am left to agree with this opinion.