Nicole Mitchell: Awakening (2011)
Flautist Nicole Mitchell's generous improvisational abilities are at the musical heart of Awakening. Not only does she move effortlessly from single-note lines and sliding honks to wispy, soft timbres, but she is equally comfortable moving from pure melodic phrasing to more experimental, free content. Coupled with an exceptional trio backing, Mitchell's album crackles with infectious spontaneity. Her music manages to be at once reflective and energetic, accessible as well as clever.
"Curly Top" kicks of the set in a laidback groove, with splendid give and take between lead flute and guitarist Jeff Parker's fluid comping. In fact, Mitchell and Parker's musical synergy is key to the album's success. Again and again they fortify each other's musical flights with perfect harmonic support, giving the music a wide sonic texture and cleverly making the most of its melodic landscape. Behind them, Harrison Bankhead's bass and Avreeayl Ra's percussion team up to lay down a funky groove, pushing each other along in creative, rhythmic accents. On "F.O.C." and the title track, the quartet also plays with a straight-ahead feel and rides out the melody for all it's worth, weaving loping, angular solos into an established song structure.
On other tracks, though, the band breaks more dramatically from straight forms and moves into avant-garde territory. Both "Journey On A Thread" and "Center of The Earth" incorporate progressive musical experimentation while retaining a semblance of melodic structure. And the band is as tight and unified in the experimental modes as they are in the more traditional aspects of the songs. This balancing act results in music both exciting and approachable, and makes Awakening a vibrant musical statement.
Track Listing: Curly Top; Journey on a Thread; Center of the Earth; Snowflakes; Momentum; More Than I Can Say; There; F.O.C.; Awakening.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute; Jeff Parker: guitar; Harrison Bankhead: bass; Avreeayl Ra; drums, percussion.