“Community” is Jeni Wren’s favorite buzzword.
Through the years of soaking up inspiration in Seattle’s jazz scene, the collaborations with Portland-area musicians that first brought her original work to fruition and launching a Kickstarter campaign to pool funds for her debut EP, Wren understands the power of getting together.
“I can’t think of one
step that has brought me to where I am now that hasn’t involved
community,” Wren says. “It’s overwhelming, inspiring and beautiful.”
Wren experienced a recent spike in local recognition with a stint as backup singer in Portland R&B baby-making outfit Shy Girls. She isn’t performing with the group for now, which is fine, because although she’s a great team player, Wren has her own career to attend to. The sultry singer’s first solo release, North Star, comes out this week, and it’s a solid collection of martini-sipping, jazz lounge-ready, soul-influenced tracks. She also has a residency at the Secret Society Ballroom, starting with the release show.
Despite Wren’s affinity for collective creation, a bender of solitude and uncertainty inspired the bulk of the material for North Star. In 2012, after having supported herself as a Montessori teacher for two years in Portland, internal reorganization left Wren without a job. At the same time, she was going through personal relationship struggles and “just was not in a good place.”
“I had put my music career somewhat on hold when I moved to Portland and started teaching, but when I lost my job and life became uncertain, the inspiration just hit me,” she says.
Indeed, yearning, reflection and the desire for a sense of place speak strongly in the songs on North Star. “Patience is not my best virtue/ I wanna let go of the past,” Wren croons amongst a purring guitar lick and meandering saxophone on her first single, “Release.” “But despite my best intention/ I still shatter like glass.”
Wren took her ideas to bassist Michael Dougherty, who helped put the full songs into place. Next came a benefit for the Jeremy Wilson Foundation in July of last year, when she performed her songs for the first time. Then producer Matthew Flowers (Feist, the Visitors) came on board. By the time North Star came to fruition, a host of local musicians had contributed their talent, including Bill Marsh, Tim Snider, Farnell Newton, Noah Bernstein and Ben Darwish. The album-release show will feature an 11-piece band, Wren’s biggest lineup yet.
“I have so much
appreciation for the people at every step: fellow musicians, publicists,
studio managers, radio personalities,” she says. “We’re all just doing
this because we love it, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.”
SEE IT: Jeni Wren plays the Secret Society, 116 NE Russell St., with Ancient Heat and Chance Hayden with Ian James, on Thursday, Sept. 19. 9 pm. $10 advance, $15 day of show. 21+.