Artifacts Trio Builds a Bridge to the Unknown on “…and then there’s this”

The provocative title of the latest album from Artifacts Trio, …and then there’s this, suggests some sort of continuation — be it a throughline from the group’s debut album, an ever-evolving approach to improvisation, or experimental contributions to the contemporary jazz canon. Flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, and percussionist Mike Reed are all among the current group of performer-educators in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the Chicago-based organization dedicated to Great Black Music. Featuring several compositions from each member of Artifacts Trio in addition to works by Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams, …and then there’s this is due out on Astral Spirits Records on October 29.

The album is a collection of curious and exploratory sounds that highlights the multifaceted-artistry within this innovative jazz ensemble. The trajectory of the album ebbs and flows, a nod to the improvisatory nature of the compositions themselves. Mike Reed’s “Pleasure Palace,” a straightforward, albeit slightly quirky opener, draws the listener in. The piece doesn’t veer too far off the beaten path, rather, it serves as a bridge into the unknown. Initially displaying characteristics of the contemporary jazz many have become familiar with (varied woodwind timbres, expanded improvisatory sections, etc.), the work elevates itself with an added layer of creativity by interspersing dissonant harmonies and breathy flute riffs. This delayed introduction of newer ideas guides the listener forward, coaxing them along as the sounds get more experimental.

Artifacts Trio (Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, and Tomeka Reid)--Photo by Liina Raud

Artifacts Trio (Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, and Tomeka Reid)–Photo by Liina Raud

Experimentation is at the very forefront as the album moves forward, with “Dedicated to Alvin Fiedler” introducing a considerable level of versatility from Mitchell, who utilizes multiple flutes to bring one of the album’s standout pieces to life. It is through this expanded instrumentation that the uniqueness of the work emerges; the introduction of wooden flutes showcases an exceptional array of colors and timbres. The role of the rhythm section is significantly pared down, providing an open improvisatory landscape for Mitchell to explore.

Flourishes of inventive sounds, including some brief and fleeting vocal utterances, permeate many of the works on the album, keeping the listener engaged. This inquisitiveness is met with the unexpected tenderness of a bowed cello solo in Tomeka Reid’s “Song for Helena.” The introduction to the allure and lyricism of the cello, whose previous function in the trio was akin to that of a double bass in a jazz rhythm section, takes one by surprise more than halfway through the album.

Artifacts Trio (Tomeka Reid, Mike Reed, and Nicole Mitchell)--Photo by Liina Raud

Artifacts Trio (Tomeka Reid, Mike Reed, and Nicole Mitchell)–Photo by Liina Raud

The compositions born of the group’s collective mind (“Dedicated to Alvin Fiedler” and “Song for Joseph Jarman”) are the most captivating and imaginative due to the ensemble’s synergistic approach to artistry. “Song for Joseph Jarman” is a culmination of many of the sounds peppered throughout the album: enigmatic flute soundscapes, sparse drum set interjections, and some soprano vocals. However, the true versatility of the ensemble, as well as the individual members, is demonstrated with the introduction of a myriad of techniques. Reed exhibits a significant expansion of his arsenal of percussion instruments, using bells, shakers, cymbals, and more to open the piece. Mitchell, who had previously been utilizing multiple flutes, adds an ethereal dimension through her subtle use of electronics. This sound is supported by Reid’s airy ponticello techniques — the metallic properties of the cello fusing seamlessly with the otherworldly sounds of the electronics.

An assortment of intricate expressions and creative risks, Artifacts Trio’s …and then there’s this leaves no listener behind, paying particular attention to cultivating a connection between what currently exists within the art form, and what is yet to come. As the album progresses, the listener uncovers more about the originality of the ensemble. A careful balance between the seemingly opposing notions of improvisation and deliberateness, the album unleashes fresh ideas, both playful and pensive.


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