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Sheperd Express Metro
April 13th 2000

Love at First Note 

      "What's love got to do with it?"  It's everything for vocalist Jill Jensen and guitarist Jack Grassel, who've performed together regularly for more than a year and just released their first album, Seems Like Dreams.  Actually, it's her CD, but husband Grassel arranged the material (his first Christmas gift to her was a set of arrangements) and produced the sessions in a Chicago studio with musicians of his choice.  Call it a marriage of talent.

     Jensen, a Racine native, grew up in a house where the music of choice dated from the swing era.  Little wonder Seems Like Dreams is a collection of standards.  But under Grassel's influence (he's spent his 30-plus years in Milwaukee jazz pushing the limits), the results are anything but standard.  "We played them the way music is played now.  We created new music out of old songs," he says. 

     On Seems Like Dreams, Jensen's expressive voice sparkles for the sheer delight of singing.  As she wraps around the words and their emotional implications, Grassel's band plays his often sharply angled yet appropriately easy-going charts.  Those arrangements flow through the songs like a long river through a string of waterfront towns, linking them with its steady flow. 

     Grassel has been busy, even aside from producing Dreams.  He was ranked among America's 10 best jazz players in the March issue of Guitar One magazine.  He's writing a column for Just Jazz Guitar.  Three more of his guitar instruction books (with accompanying CDs) were published by Milwaukee sheet music giant Hal Leonard.  He also signed an endorsement deal with Germany's Hofner guitars, whom he's trying to interest in his invention, the "SuperAx," an elegant instrument that allows guitarists to double on bass without diminishing their virtuosity.  He frequently plays a prototype SuperAx with Jensen.  Grassel also deployed the SuperAx when recording the only jazz track for an upcoming Wisconsin compilation CD, a shift--rhythmed, low-burner called Jade Castles.

     "It feels like a date when we play together," Jensen says.  "We get all dressed up.  We'll go out to eat afterward."  And they make beautiful music together.    

-Dave Luhrssen

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