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Jazz trio Artifacts gets to the point quickly, and sticks to it, on a new album

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Flute player Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed all came up on Chicago's new jazz scene 20 years or so ago. A couple of them now teach elsewhere, but once in a while, they get together to play and record as the trio Artifacts. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead likes their chemistry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTIFACTS' "BLESSED")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: That's the co-op trio Artifacts, first convened by cellist Tomeka Reid, tapping two band leaders who'd hired her early on, drummer Mike Reed - no relation, different spelling - and flutist Nicole Mitchell. One thing you notice right off about the trio's second album, called "...And Then There's This," they like pieces with lively rhythm like Tomeka Reid's "In Response To."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTIFACTS' "IN RESPONSE TO")

WHITEHEAD: Flute and cello isn't a typical jazz combination, but not unheard of. Whatever a novel thing you dream up, somebody has already done it. Flute and cello mingle more often in classical quartets and quintets, and the Artifacts trio evoke that world, too. Chicago vanguardists make their own brand of chamber music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTIFACTS' "SONGS FOR HELENA")

WHITEHEAD: A flute, cello, drums trio has a kind of lightness to it, but Artifacts leaves a firm footprint. Mike Reed's drums frame the action and keep it on track, his swinging Cuban and funk accents tipping them one way or another. Tomeka Reid strums cello like rhythm guitar, plucks booting bass lines and grinds out the blues using a bow. Nicole Mitchell makes flute another friction instrument, exploiting the rub between a note she plays and another she sings through the pipe, Rahsaan Roland Kirk style. All that friction can spark fires.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTIFACTS' "PLEASURE PALACE")

WHITEHEAD: The members of Artifacts joined Chicago's great African American musicians organization, the AACM, and they sometimes play compositions by their forebears. Most of the music on their new album is their own, but they do one tune each by elders Roscoe Mitchell and AACM godfather Muhal Richard Abrams, reminding us those guys could also groove. This is from Muhal's "Soprano Song."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTIFACTS' "SOPRANO SONG")

WHITEHEAD: Just as Artifacts trio is a compact lineup, the compositions and improvisations on their new album are mostly short, in the three- or four-minute range. Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid and Mike Reed get to the point quickly and stick to it. Getting back together and playing tunes by older masters lets these longtime colleagues remember and pay tribute to where they've come from.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTIFACTS' "REFLECTIONS")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Nicole Kidman. She just received a Golden Globe for her performance as Lucille Ball in the film "Being The Ricardos." I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.