AllAboutJazz – Review of The Middle of Life by Troy Dostert (Sept 12, 2023)

As he continues to do his part in maintaining the relevance of the flute in contemporary jazz, Christian Artmann also provides plenty of food for thought in his wide-ranging, thoughtfully constructed compositions. There is a contemplative dimension to his vision, evident on Our Story (Sunnyside, 2018), which explored the interdependency of human relationships through the lens of his Buddhist faith; and it is also present on his latest release, which involves taking stock of this moment in the planet’s fragile existence and considering its challenges and possibilities.

Joining Artmann in this venture are his frequent collaborators, pianist Laszlo Gardony, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Yoron Israel. Given the tranquility and space that is characteristic of Artmann’s compositions, these colleagues exhibit the careful restraint that is needed to let the pieces breathe. Artmann’s technique on his instrument is soft-hued, winsome rather than ostentatious. And his compositions have the same quality, as the ten tracks here take a while to develop, revealing their subtle charms incrementally and aggregatively, as impressions form and evolve.

“Turnaround,” the album’s enticing opener, gives a good indication of Artmann’s modus operandi. The loping, graceful melody almost lulls the listener at first, until one picks up on its subtle odd-meter structure, only to find another twist when the piece goes into a faster-paced segment, sparked by Gardony’s and Lockwood’s crisp unison ostinato. The stimulating title track is another crafty composition, with its gentle lyricism winding its way through its rhythmic intricacy.

Elsewhere Artmann gives voice to his political concerns, with the brief “Lament for Ukraine” featuring a poignant solo reflection on the tambin, a richly resonant African flute. Sometimes his subject matter turns more personal, as on “July,” one of the album’s most affecting tunes, dedicated to Artmann’s son. Artmann also clearly has a fondness for Latin-inflected themes, including the album’s lone cover, “Paisagem da Janela,” a samba composed by Lô Borges and Fernando Brant, one of the three pieces featuring vocalist Elena McEntire, whose presence adds another lyrical dimension to Artmann’s music.