Artemis, Royce Auditorium, St. Cecilia Music Center, Grand Rapids Michigan, February 16, 2023.
On a West Michigan night where snow and ice made travel a slippery business, Artemis cut right to the chase. Thanking those in attendance for braving the elements, pianist/founder Renee Rosnes briefly introduced her fellow players, then counted off the tricky opener “Galapagos”. Navigating the twists and turns of Rosnes’ post-bop tune, the sextet’s free-flowing intro and tight initial statement gave way to confident, creative solos by tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover, flutist Alexa Tarantino, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, Rosnes and drummer Allison Miller, with bassist Noriko Ueda driving the supple, pulsing beat forward all the while. The applause after each solo and at the end of the tune was spontaneous and heartfelt; from where I sat, it felt like everyone in Royce Auditorium was in for a good night.
One secret of Artemis’ success would seem to be this: not only is every member a world-class player and leaders in their own right, but they absolutely delight in their ongoing collaboration. As they dug into the evening’s music (taken mostly from their upcoming second album for Blue Note Records), they frequently grinned with joy and cheered on each other — especially during the generously allotted solo spots. Glover lovingly developed core motifs into rich, flowing lines; her feature on Billy Strayhorn’s ballad “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” was the very model of an intense build to an expressive climax. Spending most of the night on alto sax, Tarantino brought a puckish sensibility to her solo moments, playing high-spirited rhythmic games while stretching tonality almost to the breaking point. And Jensen brought impressive range and imagination to bear on trumpet; her multifaceted arrangement of The Beatles’ “The Fool on the Hill” displayed the same dramatic juxtapositions of register and timbre and intricate melodic knots as her arresting lead moments.
A powerful front line like this demands a rhythm section that will step up to the challenge of egging them on — and again, the players on stage didn’t disappoint. Rosnes kept the band percolating with thrilling grooves under the tightly harmonized ensemble chorales and imaginative comping for solos, then unapologetically grabbed the spotlight during her own vibrant, gleeful features; Ueda’s imaginative propulsion flowered into joyous, brilliant melodic flights on Thelonious Monk’s “Hackensack” and a composition of her own; and Miller was always forceful, always elegant, always doing the unexpected — kaleidoscopically shifting to just the right accent, rhythm and color for the moment. Throughout the night, piano, bass and drums shouldered in alongside the horns and joined the conversation as equals, forging one marvelous moment after another.
Whether navigating the enthralling compositional hurdles of Miller’s “Bow and Arrow”, paying tribute to the late Burt Bacharach by debuting a fresh arrangement of his “What The World Needs Now” or stopping clocks (and hearts?) with Rosnes’ spare ballad “Balance of Time”, Artemis was in tune with each other and on point as an ensemble from beginning to end. Above all, they had serious fun — as good a definition of jazz as any — and, if the standing ovations that capped the night were any indication, so did the audience. Check out their first album (recorded with slightly different personnel) below, catch them live if you have the chance, and be on the lookout for a new album in May from this first-rate group!
— Rick Krueger