Some of these new flavors are evident on 'Travel Fever,' the opening track of “Spirals.” Backed by a simple Fender Rhodes riff, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen plays the melancholy theme alone first before the whole band joins in. Jon Wikan's choppy drum'n'bass-influenced percussion simmers attractively beneath Maggie Olin's sweet Fender Rhodes and Christine Jensen's alto. This is as close as the band comes to post-Bitches' Brew style fusion, until the CD-closing groover 'Brejk a Leg.' Instead, much of the music on “Spirals” seems to draw more from the period when jazz musicians were first experimenting with electronics – molding these new capabilities into a jazz context almost atmospherically, as opposed to plugging in and rocking out. The band isn't tempted to relive the 70s, either, as 21st Century moves abound. The brisk, 7/8 groover 'Castle Mountain' gets a subtly Frisell-ish country-rock vibe from its winsome melody. On 'Brejk a Leg' Wikan plays the cajon like it was invented by Vikings, and throws in all manner of off-center oddly-syncopated moves on his drumkit. Olin plays Fender Rhodes throughout most of “Spirals” and its gauzy, chiming sound is perfect for the music's lyrical, multi-sectioned compositions, period references, and polyglot rhythms. What's more, Olin clearly enjoys playing the Rhodes. I, for one, am sick and tired of bandwagon-jumpers who sound like they're playing electronic keyboards with one hand while holding their nose with the other. On tracks like 'Earth Sighs' and 'Castle Mountain,' Olin revels in the instrument's bell-like tonalities and uses effects judiciously – adding all sorts of interesting colors to the quintet's amazing interplay. Ingrid Jensen also plugs in on several tracks, though her use of electronics is more like the approach favored by Jane Ira Bloom – as an embellishment, rather than as a signature sound.
The electronics present throughout “Spirals” never overwhelm or detract from the primary mission of great music making. In fact, Olin plays acoustic piano on several tracks, and she has a lovely touch. 'Yew' is a lazy, waltzing ballad with a lilting, folksy melody that nods to some of Keith Jarrett's work with Jan Garbarek. 'M-Oving' is also redolent Jarrett's work, particularly his great “Survivors' Suite” LP from the late 70s. Ingrid Jensen's gorgeous muted trumpet solo balances an acrobatic Kenny Wheeler-like approach with Miles' 'high lonesome' sound. Kenny Wheeler also came to mind when I heard 'Song For Inga,' a warm moderate tempo tune with beautifully-played dynamic contrasts. Here, Ingrid Jensen simply outdoes herself – her combination of super-fat tone, great ideas, and amazing chops make this tune a spine-tingling delight. Not to be outdone, sister Christine Jensen follows with a beautifully-wrought soprano solo of here own. 'Ballad North' is a lovely, approachable waltz that starts out with an almost march-like feel and never settles into that near-rubato favored by most jazz ballads. “Spirals” is one of the best jazz CDs in any style that I've heard all year – kudos to artistShare for bringing this project to life!