Throughout its eight-decade history, Blue Note Records has been celebrated as a home for the leading voices in jazz. The label continues that tradition with the release of the self-titled debut from ARTEMIS, the supergroup comprising seven of the most acclaimed musicians in modern jazz. Featuring pianist and musical director Renee Rosnes, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda, drummer Allison Miller, and featured vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, ARTEMIS conjures a powerful collective voice from this septet of visionary bandleaders and composers.
The band initially assembled at Rosnes’ behest for a European festival tour three years ago. “I chose musicians whom I respected and wanted to make music with,” the pianist says, “and after performing together, I realized that we had a brilliant chemistry. We decided to explore the possibilities of what might develop over time. That’s how ARTEMIS was born.”
The group is distinctive not only for bringing together seven singular artists, each renowned for their own remarkable solo career; but for its multi-generational and globe-spanning line-up, with members hailing from the US, Canada, France, Chile, Israel, and Japan.
“Each member of ARTEMIS is a unique character which is what a band needs – versatility,” says Cohen. “That’s what makes life interesting and that’s what makes music fascinating – the personalities.”
“The Greek goddess Artemis is an explorer, a torch bringer, a protector of young children, and a goddess of the hunt,” explains Jensen, who conceived of the band’s name. “I feel that her character is indicative of the energies and wide array of musical tapestries that ARTEMIS the band brings to the stage as we take our music to the moon, the stars, and beyond.”
Despite its relatively brief existence, ARTEMIS has already been featured in Vanity Fair and on NPR’s Jazz Night in America, and has performed on some of the country’s most iconic stages, from Carnegie Hall and the Tisch Center for the Arts at 92Y to the Newport Jazz Festival.
“On a sunny August afternoon in 2018, I was among the thousands of fans attending the Newport Jazz Festival who had their minds blown by ARTEMIS,” says Blue Note President Don Was. “Although each individual member of this supergroup is a bona fide jazz titan, these incredible musicians dwell in the rarefied air of bands whose whole is greater than the sum of its already sublime parts. Their musical conversation is sophisticated, soulful and powerful and their groove runs deep.”
The band’s debut album is a superb nine-song set that features material composed and/or arranged by each of the band’s six instrumentalists. ARTEMIS unfurls with a dynamic flow, stunningly eclectic yet entirely cohesive. “The group identity emerged organically,” Rosnes offers, and ARTEMIS discovered a thrilling collective vision early in its lifespan. “The band is seven leaders with strong personal points of view but with a unified conception.”
The propulsive surge of Miller’s “Goddess of the Hunt” kicks off the album with a steely urgency. Paying homage to the band’s namesake deity, Miller says that the piece “is a sonic exploration of the powerful traits that define women. We are resilient, tenacious, determined, life-giving, versatile, nurturing, elegant, mysterious, cunning, persistent, and patient. Each section of the piece rolls into the next, giving the listener a sense of continuum and the cycle of life.”
Rosnes’ contribution to the repertoire, “Big Top,” is a tour de force that makes a wry allusion to the perception of women in jazz as novelties. The composition’s carnival-inspired angularity, Rosnes says, uses a circus metaphor to “take that stereotype and have a bit of fun with it. It’s only a matter of time before witnessing a band of women playing together - in terms of gender - will be unremarkable. The impetus behind ‘Big Top’ was to subvert that stereotype and rob it of its power.”
The musical director created artful arrangements for Salvant’s two vocal pieces, a spellbinding rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic” and the melancholy “Cry, Buttercup, Cry,” a lesser known song recorded by the vocalist Maxine Sullivan in the late 1940s. Rosnes also crafted a sly reimagining of Lee Morgan’s classic Blue Note hit “The Sidewinder,” forsaking the original’s forceful funk punch for a more stealthy, insinuating slinkiness that vibrantly features the agile three-horn frontline.
Aldana’s simmering “Frida” pays tribute to another ferociously inventive artist, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Previously the subject of her celebrated 2019 album Visions, Kahlo inspired the saxophonist through “her own process of finding self-identity through art,” according to Aldana.
Cohen’s mesmerizing “Nocturno” seems to waft into the ear from a dreamscape. The composer says she was “inspired by Chopin and by solitude. I wanted to have a melody that floats over a moving rhythm in a ballad, like a lonely voice in the movement of life. I was imagining Melissa, Ingrid, and me playing that melody expressively in unison – something I love to do when I play with my two brothers [trumpeter Avishai and saxophonist Yuval] and now I also get to create that way with my new sisters.”
Ueda’s “Step Forward” begins with a tense, spiraling intro before bursting into an expansive waltz. The bassist was reminded of first hearing the whole tone sound in the piano pieces by the Japanese composer Yoshinao Nakata that she practiced as a child. While the song’s title alludes to the first step of a dance, Ueda adds, “I would like to think that it refers to a meaningful ‘step forward’ for woman in jazz as well.”
Ueda says, “Everyone in the band is a spectacular player with a voice of her own. You can hear colorful and diverse sounds and a range of expression in each of the compositions and arrangements.”
Jensen contributes a shadow-shrouded arrangement of The Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill” – not just one of Lennon and McCartney’s many classic melodies, but a pointed political statement. Musing on the piece at a moment of pandemic and protest, the trumpeter asserts, “The title is self-explanatory. My idea was to capture an essence of the constant chatter we seem to be living with: the sorrow, the madness, the community support to be tapped into via conversation, and the change ahead. ARTEMIS is a group of extraordinary women whose combined energies and skills cannot be stifled into the label of an all-star band, as every time we meet to play our conversations both on and off-stage, lead to fluidly inspired magical musical events.”
ARTEMIS • ARTEMIS • Release Date: September 11, 2020
For more information contact Cem Kurosman at Blue Note Records
(p) 212.786.8634 (e) email@example.com
Named for the Olympian goddess of the hunt and the wild, this superlative sextet is an international affair, with members hailing from the U.S., Canada, Israel, Chile and Japan: ARTEMIS is an all-star group featuring six of the top performers on the jazz scene today: pianist and musical director RENEE ROSNES, trumpeter INGRID JENSEN, clarinetist ANAT COHEN, tenor saxophonist MELISSA ALDANA, bassist NORIKO UEDA and drummer ALLISON MILLER, and frequently vocalist CECILE McLORIN SALVANT. Forget about gender! This is a significant and serious band that plays with passion, power and sensitivity. They will bring their collective artistry to the world, throughout 2020, with unforgettable performances of high-wire interplay and pure joy.
photo by Philip Montgomery
courtesy of Vanity Fair