Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Neither Wind, Nor Rain, Nor Hurricane Sandy... Music Without Maria at the Dakota

At the Dakota: Gordy Johnson, Ingrid Jensen, Clarence Penn, Marshall Gilkes

© Andrea Canter

Here in Minnesota, we have no grounds for complaints about the weather. We’re having a drought, not flash flooding or sea surges. We are not in the path of hurricanes. We aren’t even getting the backlash rains that hit Detroit and Chicago. We have electricity and public transportation. And we’re very thankful and send our prayers out to our relatives, friends and fellow citizens on the East Coast. But no one really escaped some impact in the wake of Sandy. This week, the Maria Schneider Orchestra was scheduled into the Dakota Jazz Club. I think I looked forward to this show more than any other in 2012. The MSO was also scheduled to do a side by side rehearsal with the U of M Jazz Ensemble I. 

The MSO was mostly coming in from home base in New York as this was the start of a short Midwest tour. And they are still in New York, awaiting airport reopenings and flight rescheduling hassles. The Dakota gig will be rescheduled in early 2013. Such cancelations undoubtedly characterize a long list of arts and sports events world wide. Shut down New York and you shut down activity globally. 

Ingrid Jensen
But three members of the MSO—trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, trombonist Marshall Gilkes, drummer Clarence Penn-- arrived in the Twin Cities as planned, flying in from China, Germany and the West Coast. They could have spent a couple days recovering from jet lag, checking out the Mall of America, whatever as they waited to catch up with their bandmates Thursday in Stevens Point. Instead, they worked with Lowell Pickett at the Dakota to put together a two-night show to raise funds for Sandy Disaster Relief.  Call it the Ingrid Jensen Minnesota Quintet (with pianist Peter Schimke and bassist Gordy Johnson).  Local singer/songwriter Sophia Shorai was also on board Tuesday night, providing a short opening set. The result was certainly not the Maria Schneider Orchestra, a 17-piece assemblage of internationally acclaimed artists playing the compositions and arrangements of a composer considered to be at the very top of the big band world. But the music was as magnificent as the musicians were magnanimous – playing for no pay to ensure all funds went to support relief efforts back home. It was the first time a tip jar has appeared on the Dakota Stage, management’s idea so that we could show our appreciation for the music.

Marshall Gilkes
Jensen is a commanding presence on stage – tall, assertive, directing musical traffic with a wave of her hand or a flick of her trumpet. And seemingly comfortable in her exchanges with the audience and her bandmates, two of whom she just met. And with her horn she covered the gamut of emotion, speed and harmonic possibilities—like a slice of the MSO itself. Encountering Marshall Gilkes was like meeting the trombone for the first time—particularly on his own composition, his tones covered the highest and lowest ends of the instrument; blindfolded, I probably would have guessed it was Ingrid on flugelhorn given the smooth and elegant notes he coaxed from his trombone. And Clarence Penn is one of those drummers who must have been an acrobat or freestyle dancer in a former life, arms tracing graceful patterns in the air, brushes and sticks sending staccato messages left and right. Schimke and Johnson seemed to mesh with the three visitors as if this was their umpteenth collaboration. “How Deep Is the Ocean” plunged to new depths and rose like one of the sea surges of the New Jersey shore.

The impromptu ensemble will be back at the Dakota tonight. Come down and enjoy some great music, add your support to disaster relief efforts. And don’t forget the tip jar.