Artifacts brings a free jazz tribute to Spoleto 

Show Some Respect

Artifacts is band-sized homage to free jazz, avant-garde, and experimental. They don’t push the genre, but they do pay tribute to it in a respectful and evocative way. In fact, the tribute is the band’s impetus, as they use their talents to cover songs from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a group of Chicago artists that attempted to make music that blended styles seamlessly.

In that respect, Artifacts is a total success. The trio (consisting of Nicole Mitchell on flute, Tomeka Reid on cello, and Mike Reed on drums), expertly performed mentally and physically challenging compositions by artists like Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins. Mitchell threw the pitch of her flute to surprising heights with an effective embouchure technique, and opened up the show with a lengthy and unhinged solo, setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

Reed used his world music influence, performing with an eastern bell on a song or two. He’s a fantastic drummer that, unlike many musicians that equal his skill, isn’t overbearing when he plays. Reed obviously knows subtlety, and the power that comes with it.

Reid was the band’s star performer. Despite the persistent technical difficulties that hovered over her most of the night, she consistently kicked ass on the cello. Her strong mixture of classical influence and funky sense of rhythm completely made me realize cellos can make damn good jazz instruments.

The biggest complaint that can be lobbed at Artifacts is that some of their ambient performances of some truly tunelss avant-garde compositions crawl along. The issue with these few sections is that they lack energy. Experimental music is fantastic when it lives by spirit and intensity, but one or two moments in the performance were almost that one thing jazz always strives to fight against: boring. But, these were just hiccups in an otherwise great performance.

When Artifacts finds the tune, it’s beautiful, exhilarating, even a little moving. There’s just as much Stravinsky as there is Coltrane in the tone and sound that the band performs.

The trio ended the night with a few compositions by drummer Steve McCall. The last few songs had a snowball effect on the audience. They continuously heightened the energy in the room with groove and musical adroit until the crowd couldn’t resist it. Groups were hanging around inside the recital hall to talk about it afterwards, some even excitedly calling for an encore when the band came back on stage to retrieve their instruments.

Artifacts is a must see for fans of Chicago jazz, modern free, avant-garde, and outstanding musicianship. They might get a little too overbearing for folks looking for music less confrontational, but if you’re willing to stick with Artifacts through the occasional middling section, you’ll find rewarding music.

Sun. May 27 (5 p.m.), Sun. May 27 (7 p.m.), Mon. May 28 (5 p.m.), Mon. May 28 (7 p.m.), Tues. May 29 (7 p.m.), $40- $45, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St., (843) 953-5927

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