Blue Note Records has long had a predilection for herding its star players of the day into a studio and seeing what emerges. The resultant combos—among them the Blue Note All-Stars, Blue Note 7, and Out of the Blue—have produced mixed results, and most didn’t last very long. While it’s tempting to tie Artemis, a septet of co-headliners pooling their creativity, to that tradition, theirs is a different story.
For starters, the multinational, multigenerational group came together on its own, playing a European tour and then the 2018 Newport Jazz Festival, where Blue Note president Don Was witnessed their set and became determined to sign them. It must also be noted—although the musicians wish it didn’t need to be—that unlike those previously cited aggregations, Artemis is composed entirely of women: pianist/musical director Renee Rosnes, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, clarinetist Anat Cohen, bassist Noriko Ueda, and drummer Allison Miller. Vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, although present only on two tracks on this self-titled debut, is considered a full-fledged member as well.
Five of the musicians have composed material for the nine-track set, produced by Rosnes. Miller’s “Goddess of the Hunt,” the album’s sprightly lead track, quickly sets out to assure that this is a democratic effort, allotting impressive solo showcases to all but the rhythm section, who nonetheless set the twisty direction (Miller’s drumming throughout the album is always in-pocket). Moods and tempos shift, constantly and often radically, from track to track; the solitude of Cohen’s “Nocturno” gives way to Ueda’s rollicking “Step Forward,” on which the bassist finally gets her turn to let loose.
Among the covers, running from Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” to Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic,” the latter utterly transformed by Salvant’s delicate reading, it’s ultimately Lennon and McCartney’s “The Fool on the Hill” that’s the most breathtaking. Rearranged masterfully by Jensen, at times nearly beyond recognition, it’s a textbook study in the art of reimagination. The members of Artemis have indicated that they’re in it for the long run, albeit guided by their individual schedules. We certainly hope so.