Not content with being one of the foremost performers on her instrument, flutist Nicole Mitchell is also building an impressive body of work for larger ensembles. Moments Of Fatherhood takes its place in a distinguished lineage that includes Arc Of O (Rogue Art, 2012), Three Compositions (Rogue Art, 2013), and Xenogenesis Suite (Firehouse 12, 2008). On this occasion, Mitchell combines a scaled down version of her Black Earth Ensemble with the French contemporary music group Ensemble Laborintus to form a nine-strong company.
Mitchell draws on familiar strengths in this collection inspired by photographs exhibited in 1900 by ociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois. She fashions seven inventive but approachable cuts which unite interlocking beats, memorable tunes, striking instrumental voicings and gripping individual spotlights in a heady brew. Such variety necessitates some rapid fire changes, but Mitchell achieves that without sounding clunky or forced. As a consequence the highlights are almost too many to pick out.
"Building Stuff" provides an expansive introduction to the talented crew. Tinkling percussion ushers in a series of rhythmic figures, over which Mitchell layers further propulsive lines and written material, artfully utilizing Helene Breschand's harp and Cesar Carcopino's vibes. Eventually the driving momentum opens up for the leader's liquid swooping flute over a forceful beat and Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz' angular comping. Regular collaborator David Boykin adds anguished tenor saxophone and Ortiz contributes a rippling piano excursion, before a tutti with cadence doubled to end.
When solos emerge, they remain part of the overall fabric of a piece. Ortiz features heavily throughout the program. He starts "Cold Hard Facts" in spiky consort with Sylvain Kassap 's clarinet, before a sequence of vamps, themes and counterthemes frame further encounters between the two, and Renee' Baker's violin and Boykin's tenor. Mitchell's writing promotes an organic quality in how the tracks develop.
That can be heard well the bright prancing "Listening," which also encompasses a smoky jazzy section, knotty ensembles and a chamber string trio, as well as an emotive circular breathed thickly bubbling phrases from Boykin, Mitchell's purring flute voice combo and a remarkable passage of vocalized bass clarinet multiphonics from Kassap. By the end it's clear that Mitchell has created a highly imaginative tapestry in which composed and extemporized elements interweave to reflect not only the poignancy and humanity of the original photographic sources, but also their relevance to present-day existence.
Building Stuff; Cold Hard Facts; Explorers; Listening; Only One Like Him; A Piece Of Advice; Towards Excellence.