Tag Archives: jazz

In Concert: Artemis on the Hunt

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

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra, “Promises”

Imagine if you will . . .

From silence, a seven note riff on piano, celeste and harpsichord, cycling over two repeated bass notes. Recorded so intimately you hear the piano’s damper pedals lift, as much a part of the cycle’s rhythm as the melodic tones.

About a minute and a half in, the cry of a saxophone. First responding to the keyboard cycles, then skirling continuously over them. Electric piano creeps in to fill the empty sonic crevices while the London Symphony’s strings pass above, dividing from a unison note into clustered washes. The blues are unmistakably evident from Pharaoh Sanders’ first note — and somehow the emotion he conveys is echoed in the ethereal, dissonant orchestral blanket.

The riff cycles, the sax and strings ebb; Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) steps forward with hesitant, mellow yet insistent synthesizers. Then, unexpectedly, Sanders vocalises — running scales, lip trilling, removing his horn from the equation and trusting us with his unadorned humanity, to gripping, gorgeous effect.

As he picks up the sax again, the mood and the eternal motif shift to match. Darker, thicker keys in a minor mode support grittier, more active improvisation and a stark synthesized squall by Shepherd, before subsiding to quiet counterpoint behind the unending riff.

Sanders leaps in once more — only to give way to a sustained, yearning solo cello solo that awakens the orchestra. The meditation that ensues is another moment of sheer beauty — gigantic, suspended unison lines that become a breathtaking mash-up of spiritual jazz and the English pastoral tradition, John Coltrane and Ralph Vaughan Williams locked in brotherly embrace.

The string chords pile up, mounting through consonance to dissonance — then collapse! In the ensuing silence, a quiet violin, answered by electric piano. Then, Sanders — this time so hushed, yet so gritty and breathy, over a fragile web of keyboard accents strung across the unstopping riff. A distant synth joins the dialog; Sanders cajoles it closer, helps it take more definite shape, then backs away, as Shepherd fires up free floating sequences across the stereo field and weaves a solo around them.

For the final time, Sanders breaks loose above the echoing, fading field of electronic sound, both conjuring up both the heady free jazz of his youth and the measured maturity of his long career into a memorable melodic volley. Shepherd returns to his subdued accents on synth, organ, electric piano; the riff patiently continues to cycle. Silence resumes its initial place in the piece, now dominant but not triumphant.

Until the riff stops! In its place, thick, ponderous organ chords that trail off into vibrato and echo. Total quiet; a slow-growing cloud of treated strings that burst into glittering fireworks, then subside into the final silence.

Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine this. Floating Points’ remarkable collaboration with Pharoah Sanders and the LSO is real. And moving. And my favorite album of the year to date. Listen to it below, then get it for yourself via Bandcamp.

— Rick Krueger

My favorite 40 (20+20) albums of 2020: Jazz

Moment of Clarity – Paul Shaw Quintet | Summit Records

It’s safe to say that I am the “jazz guy” here as I listen to jazz in some form or another on a daily basis, especially while working (along with some favorite classical works).

And so my first 20 favorites of 2020 are jazz. 

(The next 20, to be posted separately, are “everything else”, which includes prog, singer-songwriter, instrumental rock, and a bit of country.)

• “Moment of Clarity” by Paul Shaw Quintet: This beautiful album was my most played jazz release of 2020, a near perfect combo of interplay, melodic playing, and crisp production.

• “From This Place” by Pat Metheny: This epic album, which has a soundtrack quality to it, is one of my favorites of 2020 regardless of genre, with astounding playing at the service of deeply engaging songs. A masterpiece, in my opinion.

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