Blue Note Records is a home for many leading voices in jazz today. They continue that tradition with the release on 11 September of the self-titled debut from ARTEMIS, the supergroup comprising seven of the most acclaimed musicians in modern jazz.
In 2017, seven leading jazz performers came together as a group and toured Europe. The group was so successful that they embarked on a bigger project. They chose the name Artemis, which is appropriate for an ensemble of musically formidable women. Artemis (or Diana to the Romans) was the Goddess of the hunt and of nature; the goddess with nothing to prove. In an ancient universe crowded with ubiquitous male gods, Artemis was universally popular.
When you bring a group of band-leaders together in the Rock world, the term supergroup is often applied; in the jazz world, it is applied sparingly. It is commonplace for jazz greats to move between groups and when the term is applied, it is seldom as a marketing formula. Artemis is a supergroup by any definition but it is the musicianship that makes it so. Anyone of these musicians is a drawcard on a bill and while a group of leaders in itself, offers no guarantee of success, this project proved the pudding. The lineup of Renee Rosnes, Melissa Aldana, Ingrid Jensen, Anat Cohen, Norika Ueda, Alison Miller and Cécile McLorin Salvant is a winner.
The nominal leader is Renee Rosnes, pianist and arranger. Five of the band have penned tunes and there are several well-chosen modern jazz standards ("Fool on the Hill" – Lennon/McCartney) ("If it’s Magic" – Stevie Wonder). The first track, Alison Miller’s "Goddess of the Hunt" comes closest to being a title track and it is a marvellous vehicle for improvisation. It begins with an arresting ostinato pulse, and as other voices enter, the intensity increases. The tune has lush harmonies which flesh out the sound, making it feel a larger unit. Alison Miller is a great jazz drummer, but her compositional skills should not be overlooked either. Check out her Glitter Wolf album on Bandcamp, it’s a favourite of mine.
The second tune "Frida" is by Melissa Aldana. A ballad evoking wistfulness and inviting reflection (was it Frida Kahlo)? "Fool on the Hill" (Lennon/McCartney) is cleverly re-harmonised and has a similar mood. The contrasts are delicious; sweet and tart, tastefully juxtaposed. Here, trumpeter Jenson reminds me of fellow Canadian, the much-lamented Kenny Wheeler; a nice arrangement. "Big Top’"(Rosnes) uses stop-time and surprise to great effect; the tasty solos by Rosnes and Aldana having more edge than a blindfolded knife-thrower.
There are two tracks featuring Cécile McLorin Salvant and they are as breathtaking as you’d expect from this world-acclaimed jazz vocalist. "If it’s Magic’"(Wonder) will surely turn up in her repertoire as will "Cry, Butterfly, Cry" (Rocco Accetta). "Nocturno" (Cohen) is a moody slow-burner with an ancient to a modern feel. Cohen’s origins are evident here, a sound painting of a sultry sunset. Her clarinet is sublime. "Step Forward" (Ueda), is a fast-paced tune which opens with bass and clarinet dancing around each other. There is joyous abandon, while Miller and Rosnes urge them on to greater heights.
Listen to Sidewinder HERE
If there was one track that had me gasping from the first phrase, it was Lee Morgan's composition "Sidewinder" – in truth, it made more impact than the famous original. This snake, unlike his/her forbear, has slowed its slither and is luxuriating happily as it grooves across a sunlit clearing. The voicings are reminiscent of an Oliver Nelson arrangement and the interplay between the musicians is quite extraordinary. Muted trumpet, clarinet and that unhurried, luscious, undulating groove.
Artemis may be a multi-national and multi-ethnic line-up but in the end, the thing that counts most is the universality of their music; Renee Rosnes (piano), Melissa Aldana (saxophone), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Anat Cohen (clarinet), Norika Ueda (upright bass), Alison Miller (drums), Cécile McLorin Salvant (vocals).
You can buy the album HERE
Radio 13 appreciates our partnership with John Fenton. Check out his other writings and reviews at jazzlocal32.com