by Ian Mann
March 24, 2020
An impressive example of contemporary acoustic jazz. The album builds on the strengths of its predecessors and offers further proof of Jensen’s abilities as a bass player, composer and band leader.
Henrik Jensen’s Followed By Thirteen
(Babel Records BDV 19157)
Henrik Jensen – double bass, Rory Simmons – trumpet, flugelhorn, Esben Tjalve – piano, Pete Ibbetson – drums
“Affinity” is the third album release from Followed By Thirteen”, the quartet led by Danish born, London based bassist and composer Henrik Jensen.
The bassist first came to London twenty years ago to study at the Royal Academy of Music. He subsequently remained in the UK and has since become a busy and popular presence on the British jazz scene.
I first heard Jensen’s playing – and Ibbetson’s too – in groups led by the pianist and composer Will Butterworth. Jensen has also worked extensively with the German saxophonist and composer Peter Ehwald, the pair releasing the duo album “Jensen / Ehwald” for the Music Chamber label in 2012. Earlier the pair worked with drummer Wolfgang Hohn as The North Trio, releasing the excellent “Songs of Trees” on 33 Records back in 2008.
As a sideman Jensen has toured extensively with vocal trio the Puppini Sisters and he has also worked with saxophonists Pete Wareham and Martin Speake, flautist Mauricio Velasierra, pianist Arthur Lea, and that great musical maverick, the guitarist and vocalist Billy Jenkins.
The first Followed By Thirteen release came in 2014 with “Qualia” (Jellymould Jazz), a promising début featuring a quartet of Jensen, Tjalve, Ibbetson and US born trumpeter Andre Canniere.
In 2016 Jensen introduced a new version of the group featuring Tjalve, Canniere and Italian drummer Antonio Fusco. This line up appears on the excellent “Blackwater” (also Jellymould Jazz), a highly melodic album that built upon the promise of its predecessor and attracted considerable critical acclaim.
Jensen and Fusco were subsequently joined by pianist Bruno Heinen in the collaborative New Simplicity Trio, releasing the album “Common Spaces” on the Babel label in 2017.
Jensen remains with Babel for this latest Followed By Thirteen release, which unveils yet another version of the group. Jensen and Tjalve are joined by a returning Pete Ibbetson while Rory Simmons takes over from Canniere in the trumpet chair. The programme features seven new original compositions from Jensen that again place a strong emphasis on melody and lyricism. An increasingly assured and confident composer Jensen acknowledges the influence of such bassist/composer/bandleaders as Charles Mingus and Dave Holland, and particularly Drew Gress, who leads a quartet with the same instrumental configuration.
As a writer Jensen’s compositions are informed by personal experience, his inspirations including both people and places. The album as a whole is dedicated to his recently deceased aunt, Jyta Petersen, with individual tracks also dedicated to family members and friends. The artwork features a painting by Aurelie Freoua that was executed during a solo bass performance by Jensen at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London in September 2019. Jensen has described the event as a ‘dialogue’ between himself and the painter. Freoua also provided the artwork for “Super Mario”, the recent release by Portuguese guitarist and composer Paulo Dias Duarte’s large ensemble Overground Collective.
The album commences with “Hi Dee Dee”, an evocative introduction to the quartet’s brand of contemporary melodic jazz with Jensen’s fellow Dane, Esben Tjalve, stretching out with a flowing lyricism at the piano. Also based in London Tjalve studied at the Royal Academy at the same time as Jensen. Simmons’ flugel solo then adds a little more roughage to the group’s sound, aided and abetted by Ibbetson’s responsive drumming.
“Gentle Giant” is dedicated Jensen’s late friend and musical colleague, the Italian pianist Paolo Losi. Appropriately the piece begins with a passage of thoughtful, slightly sombre, unaccompanied piano from Tjalve. Jensen and Ibbetson join to add sympathetic support and the bassist subsequently doubles the melody with the piano. Later there’s a fully fledged bass solo from Jensen, melodic and deeply resonant, with suitably empathic accompaniment from piano and delicately brushed drums. The introduction of Simmons, again on flugel, does little to alter the mood of the piece as he solos with a Kenny Wheeler like fluency and elegance. Taken as a whole the piece represents a heartfelt and beautiful tribute.
The leader’s deep, woody bass introduces “The Belsham Palm”, subsequently joined by Simmons’ cool, Miles-like trumpet and Ibbetson’s subtly nuanced cymbal work. Tjalve eventually takes over with a limpidly flowing piano solo. Simmons then resumes the lead, briefly, on trumpet. There’s an air of wistful nostalgia about this piece, a melancholic lyricism.
“Darvin” increases the energy levels once more, a relatively straight-ahead jazz performance based around a walking bass line that tips its hat to earlier jazz styles. Anchored by the leader’s bass this subtly swinging performance features expansive and engaging solos from Tjalve on piano and Simmons on trumpet, the latter initially accompanied only by the leader’s muscular bass lines. Jensen then enjoys a brief solo of his own before the close.
“Chaoyang Park” is named is named for the park located on the site of the former Prince’s Palace in Beijing. It finds Jensen pulling rank and is an extended, but absorbing, passage of solo double bass.
The rest of the band return for “Villa Helene”, another slice of highly melodic contemporary jazz with Jensen taking the first solo, another example of immaculate double bass playing. Simmons is then given ample room to stretch out on trumpet, soloing with an agile fluency.
The album concludes with “Four for a Boy”, dedicated to Jensen’s infant son. A brief drum introduction leads into a subtly blues tinged piece with Jensen’s bass at the heart of an arrangement that again allows Simmons room to roam on trumpet, but with more intensity this time.
Immaculately recorded at Porcupine Studios by engineer Nick Taylor “Affinity” is an impressive example of contemporary acoustic jazz. The album builds further on the strengths of its predecessors and offers further proof of Jensen’s abilities as a bass player, composer and band leader.
It’s good to hear Tjalve and Simmons playing entirely acoustically and in comparatively straight ahead fashion. Their own ensembles (all excellent in their own ways) such as Tjalve’s Red Kite and Simmons’ Monocled Man, Eyes of a Blue Dog and Wolf Off have all seen them experimenting with electronics and radically altering the sounds of their instruments. Followed By Thirteen offers them a wholly different context for their playing, and on the evidence of this recording it’s one that they seem to relish. Variety is the spice of musical life after all.
Ibbetson’s return to the fold is also a considerable success. He combines effectively with Jensen and plays with taste and imagination throughout. On the evidence of this performance he can be considered to be a rapidly maturing talent.
Once again I suspect that Jensen’s focus on melody, lyricism and story telling may invite accusations of ‘bloodlessness’ from some quarters, but there’s a quiet strength and intelligence about Followed By Thirteen’s music. “Affinity” is a charming album, but there’s plenty of substance below the polished surface, and as such it is highly recommended.blog comments powered by Disqus