To call Nicole Mitchell the preeminent jazz flutist working in jazz today would be too limiting. Amid the remarkably fertile Chicago scene, she has distinguished herself as a top instrumentalist, composer, leader and musical ambassador, as well as serving as the president of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).
Renegades, credited to Mitchell's Black Earth Strings, exemplifies her unique approach. Chamber-like, the band has a drummer (Shirazette Tinnen) but is led by Mitchell's flute alongside violin/viola (Renee Baker) and cello (Tomeka Reid). Josh Abrams' delicately plucked bass fits perfectly into the hammer-on-felt sonic atmosphere. The tunes are relatively concise with an emphasis on ensemble play. Two of the longer tracks, however, prove to be the most engaging. Black Earth Strings interpret "Wade in the Water" by slightly dragging the tempo, conveying the fatigue of struggle, and "By My Own Grace" features a brief but emotional Mitchell vocal that underscores the song's defiance and the performer's resilience. This is one of the most accomplished CDs of the past year.
Anaya captures Nicole Mitchell's Indigo Trio in the studio following their Live in Montreal debut from 2007. This band swings ferociously on the muscle of its rhythm section, with Hamid Drake on drums and Chicago luminary Harrison Bankhead on bass. On "Sho Ya Right" and "Anaya Moon" Mitchell floats above the drum and bass groove while on "Wheatgrass" the leader's high energy combines with a peppy rhythm to create a spiraling whirlpool of sound. Mitchell is a reliable leader and Drake's inclusion guarantees interesting drumming, but it's Bankhead who comes across as the band's hidden weapon. "Song for Ma'at" sets beautiful arco accompaniment to Drake's frame drum and the CD closes with Bankhead alone on "Affirmation of the One," ending the session on a note of grace.
The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic raises the question of how large can a jazz band be? Boasting more than 55 pieces, it also raises the question of whether the music they play is jazz. Under the direction of composer and trumpeter Orbert Davis, it is. Collective Creativity runs the gamut from Ragtime and Dixieland through Big Band and Bop with a little Free and Fusion sprinkled in. Featured in the orchestra are four main AACM members: Ari Brown, Mwata Bowden and Ed Wilkerson (saxophones) and Mitchell. "Diaspora" travels a pan-African course; honking tenor drives "One Thousand Questions, One Answer"; "Seraphim" sambas to Mitchell's alto flute. "Vice Versa" ties all these elements and more together in a rousing conclusion, with Bowden supplying the weight and Mitchell the light. The closing "Going to Chicago" has a brassy vocal from Terisa Griffin, the sort of singer Chicago grows like dandelions, putting a final stamp on the city's place in the jazz continuum.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Crossroads; No Matter What; Ice; Windance; Renegades; Be My Own Grace; What If; Symbology #2A; Wade; Waterdance; Symbology #1; Mama Found Out; If I Could Have You The Way I Want You; Symbology #2; Waris Dirie; Aaya's Rainbow.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, piccolo, vocals; Renee Baker: violin, viola; Tomeka Reid: cello; Josh Abrams: bass, gimbre; Shirazette Tinnin: drums, percussion.
Tracks: Sho Ya Right; A Child's Curiosity; Anaya with the Sunlight; Song for Ma'at (Ma-ah-t); Beloved's Reflection; Wheatgrass; Anaya with the Moon; Affirmation of the One.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, piccolo; Harrison Bankhead: bass, cello; Hamid Drake: drums, frame drum.
Tracks: Fanfare for Cloud Gate; West End Blues/Weatherbird; Collective Creativity Suite: Diaspora; The Creation of Evolution (part 1); One Thousand Questions, One Answer; The Creation of Evolution (part 2); Seraphim; An Afternoon with Mr. Bowie (part 1); An afternoon with Mr. Bowie (part 2); The Creation of Evolution (part 3); Vice Versa; Goin' To Chicago.
Personnel: Orbert Davis: conductor, trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Ari Brown: tenor saxophone; Ed Wilkerson: tenor saxophone, clarinet, didgeridoo; Mwata Bowden: baritone saxophone, baritone clarinet, didgeridoo; Ryan Cohan: piano; Stewart Miller: bass; Ernie Adams: drums; Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo; Stephen Eisen: flute, alto flute; Amy Barwan: oboe; Erin Horan: oboe; Peter Brusen: bassoon, contra bassoon; Dileep Gangolli: clarinet; Jerry Dimuzio: clarinet; Richard Hogarth: bass clarinet; Beth Mazur- Johnson: french horn; Alice Render: french horn; Michael Buckwalter: french horn; Mark Olen: trumpet, flugelhorn; David Spencer: trumpet, flugelhorn; David Young: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tracy Kirk: trombone; Henry Salgado: trombone; Arthur Linsner: bass trombone; Robert Lustrea: bass trombone (11); Charlie Schuchat: tuba; Dan Anderson: tuba (11); Sarah Allen: tympani; Ruben Alvarez: congas; Mike Avery: percussion; Alejo Poveda: percussion; Ernie Adams: percussion (11); Suzanne Osman: percussion (11); Sylvia de la Cerna: violin 1; Bernardo Arias: violin 1; Elizabeth Brathwaite: violin 1; Talia Pavia: violin 1; Carl Johnston: violin 1; Karen Nelson: violin 1; Debora Ponko: violin 1; Phyllis Sanders: violin 2; Carol Kalvonjian: violin 2; Barbara Farley: violin 2; Kristine Semanic: violin 2; Irene Quirmbach: violin 2; Jennifer Dunn: violin 2; Scott Dowd: viola; Loretta Gillespie: viola; Lynn LaPlante: viola; Karen Dickleman: viola; Ann Hendrickson- Griffin: cello; Ellen Frolichstein: cello; Andrew Snow: cello; Richard Yao: cello; John Floeter: string bass; Kathryn Nettleman: string bass; Jacque Harper: string bass; Kara Bershad: harp; Terisa Griffin: vocal (11).