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Jentsch Group No Net — Topics in American History
(Blue Schist CD004, 2018, CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2019-03-17

Topics in American History Cover art

While the title may remind the potential listener of a dry junior college history textbook, the seven powerful instrumental tracks herein are full of warmth, brilliance and energy, and certainly anything but dry. As the composer, guitarist, and bandleader, Chris Jentsch also has a BA in history from Gettysburg College, and his interest in the subject provided the inspiration for these pieces. Since there are no vocals or narration (thank goodness) the compositions are pretty much subjective stand-alone creations that might or might not converge the listener’s imagination on the intended subject, but regardless all the pieces at hand are worthwhile endeavors in large ensemble jazz with touches of rock and classical grated into its fabric. Perhaps more than any, the introduction section to the opener “1491” (as well as its ending) presents an engaging slab of prehispanic Mesoamerican folk with percussive bells, bird-like sounds and wooden flutes that would be right at home on one of Luis Perez’ albums. After a minute and a half that slowly gives way to the more familiar sounds of trombones, saxes, flutes, trumpets, clarinets, piano, acoustic bass, drums and of course electric guitar. The nine piece ensemble blows through a beautiful gently swinging rhythm with every player trading solos over an ever-morphing melodic base, until around the ten minute mark when the pre-Colombian traditional sounds reappear. “Lincoln-Douglas Debates” may have inspired the album’s third piece, but to a listener not focused on the title and composer’s intent, this could just as well be healthy jazz romp with some traditional twists and a lot of great playing by all with a smart recurring melody that folow through its nine minute duration. “Meeting At Surrats,” what the heck is that one might ask? (besides being one of the finest examples of composition and arrangement on the disc at hand, a powerful anthem with a persistent melody). Mary Surratt was executed in 1865 on circumstantial evidence by the US government after President Lincoln’s assasins plotted their crime at her boarding house a few blocks from Ford’s theater where the assasination took place. It’s in the liner notes along with the background on every other piece on the disc. With or without the history, the seven pieces here are wonderful compositions impeccably arranged, with more than enough room for each of the nine musicians’ expressive ideas.


Filed under: New releases, 2018 releases

Related artist(s): Chris Jentsch

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