The Grammy-Award-winning Jensen will be soloing on the grooves of Justin Gray (bass), Derek Gray (drums) Eli Bennett (tenor sax). She is the senior musician on this project, and brings years of experience gigging with some of the very best in New York City's clubs.
Five or six years ago Jensen was working at the Banff School, and Justin was in the ensemble she was leading and advising.
"We had a really good vibe, and he asked me if ever I wanted to do a project with down the road, and I said: ‘Absolutely.’ And he’s kind of incorporated me into the band, and he’s written some great music,” Jensen said.
It was and remains a great break for Gray Matter. Simply put, Jensen is one of the best modern jazz trumpet players in the world today. The Berklee College of Music-graduate has played with Clark Terry, Bob Berg, Lionel Hampton, George Garzone, Geoffrey Keezer, Corrine Bailey Rae, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Gary Thomas and Terri-Lyne Carrington.
She has a growing list of critically-acclaimed CDs to her credit, and a new one called Kind of New coming out in April on the label Whaling City Sounds out of Dartmouth. That project was co-led by Jensen and keyboardist Jason Miles. Jason knew Miles Davis back in the day, and the two collaborated for five years.
"He was very good friends with Miles Davis. What’s funny is his last name is Miles. We just started jamming years ago and then we started talking about doing some kind of project, and then we started writing music together, just getting together in my basement and working out riffs, it was a very organic process," Jensen said.
"Eventually the tunes we wrote he produced, he’s a great producer, so he would produce a few tracks and I would blow over them. So after a year we had quite a few tunes, we had too many," Jensen said.
The new CD will be released on April 15. Jensen and Miles will go on the road as part of a quintet following the release. This CD was not recorded in the traditional way in a studio.
"It was all done flying tracks around to people, as many records are done now days. Because it’s not that kind of straight-ahead jazz record we didn’t all need to be in the studio together, we just added our layers. And then we did some live stuff, using some of the tunes we had already recorded. And they came out great, a balance of live and studio, and it’s kind of cool," Jensen said.
When she finishes the gig Saturday night at The Jazz Room she returns home just in time for a three-day run at Dizzy Gillespie's Coca-Cola Club in New York City Michele Rosewoman.
"It’s a merry-go-round of the different types of gigs there. From a duo gig at a saxophone store to two or three nights at Dizzy’s," Jensen said. "When I am home I am usually playing, I usually have something going on.”
Her current mini-tour ends with The Jazz Room gig Saturday night. It started in Montreal, then she travelled to London for a clinic with music students at Western. On Thursday and Friday, Jensen and Gray Matter played The Rex in Toronto. Their chops will be in great shape for this gig.
Jensen was born in Vancouver, but raised in Nanaimo. The small city on the east coast of Vancouver Island has a rich-musical history. Logging, commercial fishing and coal mining provided steady paycheques for people looking for entertainment. They found it in live music.
“From the very beginning we had a very strong jazz community there. I saw a lot really great musicians playing, Ray Brown was in town a lot. Diana Krall of course was playing and studying with him. So there was evidence everywhere of how that good, high-level music is supposed to sound. It wasn’t just sort of oh, the average Joe just jamming on a blues. It was people really playing the repertoire, and playing it well.”
There was a direct link between New Orleans Jazz and the early days of coal mining in the Nanaimo area.
Jensen went to the same high school as Diana Krall. The music program was something else.
"And all the teachers that were teaching could play at the time I was in school. They weren’t just teachers, they were in the community big band. But we all would get together on a Wednesday, and play in this big band. My sister played in it. Diana played in it. I played in it. My older sister played in it at one point. It was really cool, it was a really strong community thing going on.”
Jensen wishes every town had a community band like that one in Nanaimo.
"And without that, the music really does die. And unfortunately it is dying in certain communities because there is not that connection to the past," Jensen said. "You have to keep that thread going so people, the kids especially, can get a feel for what it’s like to play a dance, play some dance music and get people moving.”
Cicily Janus, a musician, writer and educator wrote a booked called The New Face of Jazz, which was published in 2010. It includes a chapter on Jensen. In it, Jensen credits the early-music education she received in Nanaimo for the amazing solos she blows today.
"I am playing a lot more modern music, and stuff that has less chords, but more possible spaces to take it in certain ways," Jensen said.
A good example is the new CD that comes out in April --- Kind of New --- that sounds like late-career Miles Davis.
"And it just puts me in a new place to be kind of a Beat poet that gets to go off on a steam, and also be part of the composition process," Jensen said.
“It sort of never ends. It’s a process you have to embrace from the beginning, and you just don’t ever stop looking for new possibilities, and ways to express yourself over a tune. You keep your technique up as well, but it’s all in relation to the music. Whether I am working on a ballad or an up-tempo tune that’s sort of my daily meditation is to get to the place where I am not thinking about anything except for a song, and the feel and what can be done with it once the band plays.”
And the Beat Poet of the modern jazz trumpet will play solos that burst like fireworks over the heads of her audience and everyone will look up and say, aaaaahh.