Steve Robertson
PBS Radio, Melbourne

The Sapphire Tree

With this, her third CD for La Brava, Bonnie J Jensen has moved up several artistic and creative notches. The Sapphire Tree is a highly mature and at the same time entertaining piece of work, a superb balance of the familiar and the new.

Through this CD, Bonnie clearly demonstrates her wide range of influences and inspirations. Familiar jazz standards (Night In Tunisia, Angel Eyes, Night and Day) are here but are re-worked effectively to give the melodies a needed freshness and vigor. Tunes composed in the last 40 or so years by major instrumentalists like Brian Blade and Jimi Hendrix help cement their compositions as future standards and also introduce them to older (and sometimes even the younger) listeners.

But above all are Bonnie’ own compositions, for which she also serves as her own lyricist (a double skill few have ever mastered – Cole Porter and Matt Dennis come most quickly to mind). The title track The Sapphire Tree is a haunting yet lyrical piece of work that ought to become an Australian standard. Aeroblue continues an almost ancient tradition, the blues, but brings it firmly into the new millennium. And Neon Soliloquy glows with rhythmic subtlety and lyrics that hint rather than yell at you, a common flaw among less-skilled wordsmiths.

Bonnie’s credentials are impressive for one still very much in the prime of her career. Her second album, "Blue Joy" reached No. 8 in Japan's Swing Journal Jazz Vocal Charts during 2004. As if that were not enough, Bonnie is an accomplished piano player whose diverse influences range from Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Eliane Elias and Chet Baker, to John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Bob James.

As a vocalist, she is blessed with astonishing accuracy and a deep feeling for her lyric. A sultry singer whose voice moves effortlessly from standard jazz to bossa nova, pop, blues and funk, she is clearly not a prisoner of any single musical style.

Her band cannot be praised highly enough. A very prominent Australian musician/educator once told me he thought Mike Bukovsky is Australia’s best-ever trumpeter. Alister Spence provides marvelous keyboard support on several tracks, Craig Walters is consistently inventive on tenor and soprano, and Fabian Hevia, Jeremy Sawkins and Jonathan Swartz all contribute quite effectively. Unlike some vocalists, Bonnie is very democratic in allotting solo time, so the myriad talents of her band are brought to the fore on The Sapphire Tree.

This exceptionally polished and inspiring CD is getting a fair bit of overseas airplay, notably in Japan, the UK and the USA. This is as it should be – few Australian albums showcase what is excellent about our nation’s jazz scene so comprehensively.