Like much of the bountiful fruit harvested at Origin Records in Portland, Ore., Tim Jensen's "A Mind for the Scenery" challenges the listener from the get-go.
Jensen is a composer and reed player of eclectic tastes, versatility, technique and audacious creativity. He also is an arranger and a bandleader who knows how to surround himself with like-minded musicians capable of equal audacity. Take for example the opener, "Sausage," a squiggly tune pushed through all sorts of musical permutations by Jensen on tenor, Rob Scheps on soprano sax, Paul Mazzio on flugelhorn and Jeff Uusitalo on trombone.
The band is enlarged to nine horns for "Rusty Rayburn and Piggy Lee," a nightmarish parody of the worst of Big Band excess. The only jazz standard here, "Green Dolphin Street," gets a very percussive treatment with Jensen soloing on piccolo.
Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages," on the other hand, begins with a lush, but dissonant brass chorale and leads into a gorgeous statement of the melody by pianist Randy Porter. Scheps follows with a soaring tenor sax solo. The brass section also opens "Lament for Larry," which is notable for its eerie, mock-operatic vocalizing by Brenda Baker. Horns are front and center again for the ballad "Felpham's Vale," where tenor, alto and soprano saxes combine with flugelhorn and trombone.
Jensen's versatility is most evident on "Mambrino Flats," a slow Latin tune that features the leader on both soprano sax and bass clarinet. He also is a capable player on flute and on alto and baritone saxes, as well as tenor sax and piccolo.
Horns dominate most of the arrangements, which is not to say that pianist Porter, bassists Phil Baker and Dave Captein, drummer Gary Hobbs and percussionist Reinhardt Melz are buried in the mix. On the contrary, the rhythm section is essential to this exciting, propulsive music. They are especially prominentˇand effectiveˇon the loping "Carson City" and the up-tempo bopper "Fiasco."
It is no surprise to find Scheps in this company. As we heard when he brought his adventurous young band to Lincoln a few months ago, he is always pushing the envelope of group improvisation, just as Jensen does here.