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Nicole Mitchell: Black Unstoppable

Jerry D'Souza By

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Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble
Black Unstoppable

Nicole Mitchell is probably best known for her work in jazz, but she recently has explored classical and African music as well as rhythm & blues and soul. She puts it all together impressively, letting the music speak loud and clear of the passion that beats within her. Her approach reflects the philosophy of a singular artist who has a different way of seeing the world. The Black Earth Ensemble is one of the many voices for her music. The group, which fluctuates from five to nine members, comprised seven musicians on the two nights that the concerts on this DVD were recorded.

Mitchell shows the various stylistic impulses that inform her music. Classical music weighs in with Tomeka Reid's cello on "The Creator Has Other Plans For Me. Mitchell jumps into swing on the flute, establishing the melody before she lets the structure billow and swell with a host of earthy progressions. David Young has a honeyed flugelhorn as he sets his course, then goes off on a tangent that suddenly snaps into the song's harmony before adding a delectable dash of New Orleans flavour.

Love Has No Boundaries is a blues tune on which Ugochi Nwaogwugwu showcases her soulful singing, revealing her deep timbre and heartfelt approach to song. Young lays out a wailing line on the trumpet, effectively using the plunger, and when he sings, his rasp is the perfect foil for Nwaogwugwu. Mitchell's long lines cry with passion, her short ones throb with intensity, and together they raise the art of the flute to inventive sonic levels. Marcus Evans' thick, juicy notes on the guitar open direct declamation and, together with his use of space, make for a high degree of communication.

On "February" Mitchell plays the alto flute for a lower sound. She crafts the ballad marvellously, inflecting it with a gentle lilt and buoyancy, segueing into the pastoral and bringing in free-floating notes. By contrast, David Boykin has a compact authority on tenor saxophone. He never shies from being assertive or adventurous, yet he knows what the boundaries are and avoids slipping into a formless abyss. He commands the road during his solo, which provides a cogent exposition and fleshing of the theme.

From these strongly individualistic compositional and solo strengths comes music that is sublime, provocative and challenging.

Tracks: The Creator Has Other Plans For Me; Life Wants you To Love: Cause and Effect; Love Has No Boundaries; Black Unstoppable; February; Thanking the Universe.

Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, piccolo; David Boykin: tenor saxophone, percussion; David Young: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jeff Parker: guitar; Tomeka Reid: cello, shakere; Josh Abrams: bass; Marcus Evans: drums; Ugochi Nwaogwugwu: vocals (2, 4, 7).

Production Notes: 78 minutes. Recorded June 8 and 9, 2007 at the Velvet Lounge, Chicago.

Extras: Nicole Mitchell commentary; Fred Anderson DVD trailer.


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