The Indigo Trio's sophomore outing on the classy French Rogue Art imprint delivers the record fans of Nicole Mitchell the flutist have been waiting for. Mitchell the composer and arranger has been to the fore of late on Black Unstoppable (Delmark, 2007) and most notably Xenogenesis Suite (Firehouse 12, 2008), but with instrumentation stripped to the bare essentials, her unique flute styling finally gets the shop window it deserves.
Not that this is a solo vehicle. Any set featuring the Chicago triumvirate of master drummer Hamid Drake and bassist and cellist Harrison Bankhead alongside Mitchell is going to focus on infectious world rhythms, extemporized harmonies, and adventurous soloing, but it all comes together superbly on this well recorded studio set, with time well-taken to ensure they're on the money. Billed as a co-operative, all three participants divide the composer credits, along with one group effort in the 68-minute program.
Drake and Bankhead have gigged together since they were 14 years old, with countless hours supporting veteran AACM saxophonist Fred Anderson, and it shows in their near telepathic understanding and seamlessly shifting grooves, as in the multi-sectioned "A Child's Curiosity," or the embellishments which still somehow coalesce to mark time in "Anaya with the Moon". Drake has few equals in such territory, swinging the band while rarely playing the same thing twice. Bankhead rides shotgun, but also brings his considerable melodic sensibilities to the feast.
Mitchell's flute soars with inspired abandon; fluent with a full-toned tensile core, it drifts languidly one minute, dipping and diving triumphantly the next. While standing on the shoulders of giants of the instrument like Rahsaan Roland Kirk and James Newton, Mitchell's expressive blending of high voice with flute is all her own. Chirrups, yelps, gasps, and squeals intertwine with blown notes to the extent that it is hard to know whether it should be categorized as singing or playing, though ultimately it inhabits a delicious territory known only to her midway between.
But this is about the whole not the parts. Fertile interactions abound: on Drake's "Anaya with the Sunlight," named for his grand-daughter, Bankhead's bass channels a doussn' gouni at the start before slipping into a driving riff to inspire Mitchell to her most exciting solo of the set. Elsewhere, in the companion piece "Anaya with the Moon," midway through Mitchell quotes one of Bankhead's favourite phrases back at him, which must have sparked smiles in the studio. Whether impressively setting out their wares on the flag-waving opener, toying with eastern rhythms and devotional melodies on the collective "Song for Ma'at," or negotiating the thorny unison of "Wheatgrass," where Mitchell's vibrant piccolo pierces the choppy bustle, there is a cohesive group feel throughout. Rounding out the set, "Affirmation of the One" is a gentle solo goodbye from Bankhead: lyrical plucking low on the fretboard contrasts with a framework of resonant strums, before a questioning unresolved ending to this superlative document.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, piccolo; Harrison Bankhead: bass, cello; Hamid Drake: drums, frame drum.