Artemis and Dianne Reeves at NJPAC

The TD James Moody Jazz Festival is celebrating 10 years, and the relief and joy of both the performers and the audience was palpable. NJPAC is a lovely hall, good sound, good vibes all-around.

Artemis is a supergroup of hot players that scans as a collective, but the music director and MC is the experienced Renee Rosnes, who has played with seemingly every consecrated mainstream jazz master. Anat Cohen, Ingrid Jensen, and Nicole Glover tell their stories in the front line, Noriko Ueda and Allison Miller are the engine room.

A group like this is not necessarily organic, but I always like hearing people who wouldn’t automatically play together work it out in real time. Indeed, the members of Artemis are more diverse aesthetically than the Blue Note confabs two generations ago such as Out of the Blue or Superblue. (Trivia: I bought Superblue 2 on cassette tape in 1989, with Renee Rosnes on piano.) The repertoire is varied but the intent is unified.

Set list:

“Galapagos” (Rosnes) — a burning modal fanfare, everyone got a say. Clarinet, Trumpet, and Tenor is reasonably unusual, but the impact was similar to any good hard bop sextet.

“Step Forward” (Ueda) — jokes about early piano lessons (Debussy’s “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” lurks in the background) moves into a fast and pretty waltz.

“Nocturnal” (Cohen) — Cohen showed off her skills as a colorist in the Ellington line in a moody number.

“Big Top” (Rosnes) — a multi-sectional showstopper, the highlight of the set. Even a bit of the AACM was present in the circus touches. However, when it comes time to play serious uptempo jazz, the cats in Artemis throw down. Jensen really is one of the best trumpeters around.

“The Fool on the Hill” (arr. Jensen) — A Beatles classic in Jensen’s slow and chromatic reharmonization.

“The Procrastinator” (Lee Morgan) — I suspect Rosnes did this arrangement, with an exotic piano intro and an emphasis on parallel harmony. By this time everyone was all the way in gear; Glover tore the changes completely apart.

“Goddess of the Hunt” (Miller) — another notably strong original. As with “Big Top” this kind sprawling form suits the band. Miller was dynamite throughout, and the drum solos were crowd-pleasers, but I’ve heard some of Miller’s own records, and I wouldn’t object if some of her more avant and pop tendencies pushed further into the mix as Artemis evolves. During the piano solo, Rosnes played some truly impossible double-time runs.

Dianne Reeves’s fine band included Romero Lubambo, Peter Martin, Ben Williams, and Terreon Gully. They walked through a casual “Alone Together” to warm up with before Reeves came out. Her opening rubato a cappella statement on “Stella by Starlight” was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Perfect pitch, perfect sound, wide range, direct emotion.

Josh Redman told me once, “The only person I don’t want to follow at a jazz festival is Dianne Reeves,” and by the end of the set, I could see why. This audience was in the palm of her hand, she put everyone on the same page, preaching the truth of love and forgiveness.

I didn’t know every tune, but was surprised to hear Pat Metheny’s “Minuano,” which featured a strong scat solo from Reeves. (Trivia: I bought Still Life/Talking on LP in 1988.) There was a Brazilian theme throughout; of course Lubambo is a master Brazilian guitarist, and at the end Reeves said her next album will be all-Brazilian.

Other highlights included “A Time for Love,” duo with Lubambo, and Peter Martin’s rather astonishing opening cadenza to “Infant Eyes.” The band was grooving hard. It was apparently Williams’s first gig with the group and he offered serious vibes on both acoustic and electric bass. Gully played the room, played a “singer’s gig,” but a few happily esoteric fills confirmed his status as one of the heavy cats.

It was so nice to go out and hear a serious concert!