This septet of accomplished modern jazz greats is so much more than just another supergroup, as this beguiling debut testifies
To describe the group ARTEMIS as a “jazz supergroup” is both accurate and damning.
Can you name a “supergroup” that wasn’t a bit of a disappointment?
Not to worry: ARTEMIS is in every way an exception, an ensemble which adds up to more than the sum of its members and which is altogether new. The writing and the playing are so strong on this recording that the performances stand with the best examples recorded on other releases by the musicians involved. The musical arrangements though, (three by pianist Renee Rosnes, one by trumpet player Ingrid Jensen and one a collaboration between Rosnes and clarinetist Anat Cohen) frame many of these compositions so well that they become exceptionally vivid, and Allison Miller’s remarkable drumming is so musical it provides an embrace for every musical gesture. Even the pieces with no arranger listed are so well put together they lift the music and create a group sound, where a lesser recording might simply leave the impression of a blowing date. Yes, these 7 women are virtuosic, but it’s the music they are all about, not the notes and the instruments.
Label: Blue Note
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Named by trumpet player Ingrid Jensen for the Greek goddess of the hunt – “an explorer, a torch bringer, a protector of young children” as she notes on the record label’s website, the group was formed 3 years ago by pianist Renee Rosnes for a European tour. They’ve since played venues including Carnegie Hall, but under present circumstances this recording is going to be the way most listeners hear them now. They’re in for a treat, due in part to Jensen’s playing. I can’t think of a trumpet player I’d rather see right now.
Five of the nine pieces are originals: “Nocturno” by the extraordinary clarinetist Anat Cohen sounds a bit like Chopin under the spell of Tango, the effervescent “Big Top” by Pianist Renee Rosnes swings winningly while playfully evoking Khachaturian and “Frida” by the tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana sounds to these ears like some sort of Samba variant.
Four of the pieces on the eponymously titled ARTEMIS are covers, re-imaginings really, of disparate pieces by other people.
The sole musician in ARTEMIS I had not heard of when I had the pleasure of discovering this ensemble in 2018 at Newport is the bassist Noriko Ueda. Based on her contributions here, I will be surprised if her name does not start to catch my eye on forthcoming recordings. The other member of ARTEMIS I haven’t mentioned yet deserves her own spotlight. The show-stopping singer Cecile McLorin Salvant is busy enough that scheduling her for performances with ARTEMIS was already a challenge pre-COVID. When live music returns, go see her. Be it with this ensemble, with her own group, or on stage with her theatrical piece OGRESSE, see her. At 30 she’s already won 3 Grammys. She sings two numbers on ARTEMIS, either one of which could justify a purchase of this recording.
But don’t be surprised if you begin to look for all her recordings just as you’ll be tempted to track down recordings by the other 6 members of this talented group.
ARTEMIS could prove a gateway purchase, and a very welcome one at that.