With the emergence of the Esthesis Quartet in 2022 following the launch of ARTEMIS in 2020, the jazz world has been blessed this decade with two jazz supergroups comprised solely of wildly accomplished female musicians. Because ARTEMIS is on Blue Note and includes marquee names like Renee Roses, Ingrid Jensen and guest vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, they’ve grabbed international festival attention and won a JazzTimes readers’ poll for Best New Artist. Yet Esthesis Quartet, currently dropping their fascinatingly played, dynamics rich second collection Time Zones, boasts a feat that not even ARTEMIS can top.
In the male dominated world of jazz academia, there are only six women across the country who are department heads of jazz programs – and the quartet has two of them, pianist and vocalist Dawn Clement (Metropolitan State University of Denver) and drummer Tina Raymond, Director of Jazz Studies at Cal State Northridge. Together with Swedish born, NYC based flutist Elsa Nilsson and Emma Dayhuff, the most recent bassist to graduate from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance in Los Angeles, Esthesis Quartet launched like so many unexpected projects during the first Covid lockdown, via mutual respect and Zoom sessions.
Using the term Esthesis is far from a random cool name choice; it translates to the elementary sensation of touch – something that the world could only do once the lockdowns eased. The intoxicating, multi-movement opening number “Blue Light,” which jumps quickly from a sweetly melodic flute/piano duality into a barn-burning, high intensity flute/drum jam, is the perfect microcosm of the seven track collection’s ever-shifting journey of emotional highs and lows, sweeping from lyrical charm and slow burning sensuality to frenetic and explosive cathartic energy. The same compelling dynamics are at work on a more thematically based level on “Brush Fire,” which melodically, rhythmically and harmonically captures the slow growing, then quickly engulfing trajectory of SoCal’s deadly 2018 Woolsey Fire.
The quartet offers a unique balance of moods throughout, following Clement’s ethereal vocal ballad “The New Yorker” (with graceful music set to Megan Fernandes poem “Scylla and Charybdis”) with the trad jazz hustle and bustle of “Hollywood” and the ominous but grooving “Peter Gunn Theme”-styled madness of “Serial” (inspired by a podcast of the same name) before toning down for the lovely, mid-tempo flute driven gem “First Light.” Following Nilsson’s edict to Dayhuff to “Go as fast as you want!,” Esthesis Quartet wraps the endlessly engaging set with the breakneck-paced inspiration of “Getting Through.”