Code Quartet: All Jazz Codes

Interview by Alain Brunet
Genres and styles : Contemporary Jazz

Additional Information

Code Quartet brings together four key figures of Montreal jazz, as evidenced by the beautiful album Genealogy, released on the Justin Time label last spring. Four performers, improvisers and composers ready to pool their long experience, their great expertise and their insatiable passion for contemporary jazz in its most subtle forms.

Adrian Vedady, double bass, Jim Doxas, drums, Lex French, trumpet and Christine Jensen, saxophones. As a courtesy, Christine Jensen was interviewed by PAN M 360 on the day of their concert at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

PAN M 360 :Among all your projects, what is the purpose of this quartet ?

Christine Jensen : This quartet allows me, as well as the other three members to play in the most intimate, liberated setting of 4 musicians with no piano or guitar. We are all about linear expression. 

PAN M 360 :Can you tell our readers the circumstances of its foundation ? 

Christine Jensen : This group came together through simpatico meeting of minds between the four of us. I met trumpeter Lex French in 2018, while he was working on his doctorate at McGill. I was teaching composition and performance at the same time.  I was really impressed with his playing, full of expression and very versatile with his jazz language. I am very picky about trumpet players for some reason (haha) . We started playing sessions with Jim Doxas and Adrian Vedady, and knew we had a strong, personal sound with this group. The front line of Lex and myself could hold some power with the heavy hitting rhythm section of this team.  Next thing, Lex brought us to New Zealand for the Wellington Jazz Festival, where he is from. We had such a great time with everything music that we knew we had to continue and headed into the recording studio. We recorded a few days before the lockdown, thinking we would really get things moving forward. During the pandemic, it was easy to get together as we were all in close proximity being in Montreal. It really was a positive event for me whenever we could get together and workshop ideas during that time. In fact it was quite healing, and made me think that music will move forward so strong because of this. 

PAN M 360 : Is it for you guys a side-project or something on which you want to build for the next future?

Christine Jensen : We are very invested artistically in building on what we have started as a chord-less quartet, performing locally in 2019. Since then, every time we perform together we can’t wait to do more.  It’s like a music drug, which is a good thing! It really makes performing easy, because of such equal energy being fed to each other in the most organic setting of acoustic quartet.  We have all really committed to continuing on with exploring many corners, including building new repertoire and uncovering standard repertoire that works well with this formation. 

PAN M 360 : Is there any leader in this band ? 

Christine Jensen : No. We all tend to take on various roles in all of the many corners, including artistic direction, business, and recording. Each component is huge in terms of tasks, so it is really great when each of us take a bit on. I think that because we are so committed to this, we have been able to build a team behind us, including Heidi Fleming FAM group jumping on board with management and booking,  and Justin-Time Records with this recording and one that we have coming up. We also all work on booking the band at various levels. 

PAN M 360 :  Who is composing what ?

Christine Jensen : The four of us equally bring in music, and we are all into the challenge of presenting music that is very vertical linear, and not heavily harmonized or full of harmony. We all try to bring in new music whenever we get the chance. We all work together on orchestrating the sounds we are going for, so there is a lot of workshop, which is SO fun! 

PAN M 360 :  What do you explore musically with those gentlemen ?  Can you describe briefly the jazz styles involved ?

Christine Jensen : We work with anything really. We have even performed commissions by other composers for our group. We had a premiere of New Zealand composer Jasmine Lowell-Smith when we went to that festival. 

PAN M 360 :  How do you see the role and qualities of each member of this ensemble ?

Christine Jensen : That is the coolest part. We are all responsible for bringing in ideas equally, yet our instruments definitely define our roles in the performance. Strong time and great sound really are the key in this band really hitting hard. Lex and I weave the melodies, Adrian is in charge of laying down the bass, and Jimmy definitely gets to drive the ensemble with his expression as a drummer. We are all able to interchange with soloing and accompanying, as well as outlining any harmonic ideas vertically. 

PAN M 360 : Should we receive  this music as a “classic” form because it swings and the chord progressions are rooted in modern jazz idiom, from post-bop to ornettish style of the early 60’s (Genealogy theme) ?

Christine Jensen : I always think it is up to the listener. We are not completely free jazz and we are not completely original post-bop, but we can do all of that and everything in between. I think that is what gives the listener that feeling of something new, yet there is a classic jazz sound to it. 

PAN M 360 : Above its apparent classicism, what are for you the original aspects of this quartet’s personality ?

Christine Jensen : I think the personality finds us at a certain point. We all equally bring our own game to the table and it somehow all merges together. I think the music can take so many dramatic turns because of our personalities. I know I always get surprised by the spontaneity that can occur on so many levels with our dialogue. 

PAN M 360 : Are we going to hear new material (not recorded yet) at the FIJM concert on Saturday ?

Christine Jensen :  Yes. I am adding a piece from my pandemic entitled TwentyTwenty Blues. 

PAN M 360 :What will be the next steps for Code Quartet ?

Christine Jensen :We are performing at some Maison de la Culture’s in the fall, with more booked for next year. We have had really fun times working out our music at our favourite Montreal jazz clubs as well, including Upstairs and Diese Onze. More to come there in the future. We also have a showcase  that has been postponed two years at JazzAhead in Bremen Germany in April. Hopefully we will get more of our sounds in Europe with this opportunity. Also, heading out on Canadian Jazz festival circuit once it gets up and running next summer. 

PAN M 360 : Why CODE quartet ?

Christine Jensen : We worked on many names. When it came down to it, it really does feel like the four of us have a secret language, only because we are all equally enamoured with the same sounds of the masters who have influenced us as a whole in the linear language of jazz. They include Sonny Rollins, Bird and Diz, Lee Konitz, Ornette Coleman, Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano,  Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, Billy Higgins, Charlie Haden….the list goes on, but I think those are some of our mutual ‘racines’ in this small group setting. We also have similar stances on the world in terms of politics and environment. For this reason I am certain that our music will continue to express those thoughts more deeply as we go forward in expanding our dialogue as a group. 

Code Quartet performs at the Parterre symphonique 5h15 PM, Saturday September 18

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