The Sheer Force Of Artemis

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The members of Artemis are drummer Allison Miller (left), pianist and musical director Renee Rosnes, bassist Noriko Ueda, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, clarinetist Anat Cohen and tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana.

(Photo: Keith Major)

Last fall, Blue Note Records made history by signing pianist Renee Rosnes’ adventurous septet, Artemis, to its roster.

The deal stands out for its departure from the norm: Blue Note typically represents solo artists and bandleaders. The self-led groups it does represent tend to be small. And, regardless of size, Blue Note bands overwhelmingly comprise male musicians. By welcoming Artemis into its pantheon of esteemed artists, Blue Note upends these precedents and expands the diversity of its ranks. The label will release Artemis’ superb eponymous debut on Sept. 11.

While the band pushes several boundaries—cultural, generational—it’s hard to miss that its lineup is exclusively female. By now, though, the all-female jazz band isn’t as surprising as it once was. After all, Sherrie Maricle’s DIVA Jazz Orchestra has been together for more than 25 years; Terri Lyne Carrington released The Mosaic Project (Concord) in 2011; and Monika Herzig created her SHEroes ensemble in 2014. (Several members of Artemis have performed with these groups, in fact.)

So, what makes Artemis exceptional isn’t how they identify, but how they compose, perform, lead and collaborate as the elite musicians that they are.

Collectively, the sheer force of the group’s ability is staggering. First, consider that Canada native Rosnes, Artemis’ musical director, has been turning out award-winning albums for three decades. Juno Award winner Ingrid Jensen, also Canadian, has contributed to nearly 50 albums as a leader or side player, making her one of the most prominent trumpeters of her generation. In addition to being an esteemed bandleader, American drummer Allison Miller has worked with major headliners from the worlds of pop, rock and jazz, and tours consistently with several musically diverse ensembles. Chilean-born tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana was both the first woman and first South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Saxophone Competition in 2013.

Clarinetist Anat Cohen was the first Israeli ever to headline at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York City and has become an in-demand musician around the globe. Bassist Noriko Ueda, who grew up in Japan, received a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music and later won the Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize from the BMI Foundation. And vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, born in the States and now living in France, is a frequent DownBeat Critics Poll winner who has three Grammy Awards.

Now, imagine all this talent on stage at the same time.

Beyond their achievements as performers, these musicians also excel as leaders, arrangers and composers—individualized strengths that Rosnes wisely leveraged for the group’s first album. Five of the band members contribute originals to the program, with Rosnes and Jensen providing additional arrangements and Salvant curating the vocal selections. If taken in isolation, each of these unique tracks stands as a glowing testament to the musical prowess of its champion. But taken together, they provide insight into how the group balances the seemingly conflicting musical values of structure and freedom, stillness and movement, assertion and acquiescence.

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March 2021
Ethan Iverson
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