Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble Black Unstoppable Delmark
This DVD is representative of lighter, airier aspects of flautist Nicole Mitchell's music, and the seven- piece Black Earth Ensemble puts a whole new spin on the notion through skillful deployment. The music is never forced and always the product of organic growth. Delmark's customary no-frills presentation of a live set ensures that the focus remains on the musicians throughout, and they breathe life into the music in a way that can only come from an ensemble schooled but not drilled in a leader's music.
Caught over two nights in June of 2007 the continuity between one set and the other lends this document a seamless quality. It also affords the viewer and listener the opportunity to appreciate the multiplicity of voices within the group, all of them seemingly intuitively appreciative of the music's history. Thus the swagger in the playing of tenor saxophonist David Boykin is right in the pocket beneath the vocalising of Mitchell, Ugochi Nwaogwugwu and trumpeter David Young on "Love Has No Boundaries" before the latter instrumentalist evokes the spirit of Cootie Williams while hinting broadly at the best and most raucous of times.
"The Creator Has Other Plans For Me" at times comes on like a soulful, less cerebral version of the Jimmy Giuffre trio with Jim Hall, but here the music is grounded in entirely different soil, with Mitchell herself pleasingly showing no overt, dominant stylistic allegiance despite the passing references to Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
"Black Unstoppable," the title piece, is indicative of the range of Mitchell's music, characterized by low volume yet containing overtly active passages idiomatically reminiscent of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, while guitarist Jeff Parker's string manipulations call Fred Frith to mind. It all makes for the most intriguing piece here, not least because it suggests whole worlds of musical possibility.
At a push, however, it might be the attempts of Albert Ayler in his later years to produce a more inclusive music that are the most pertinent point of reference. On this occasion the ideal is closer to realization, and the set-closing "Thanking The Universe" is ample evidence. Boykin's blend of the cerebral and the gutbucket encapsulates the quest, and the impassioned vocalizing of Mitchell and Nwaogwugwu gives the whole a positive spin.
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, percussion, vocal; David Boykin: tenor sax, percussion; David Young: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocal; Jeff Parker: guitar; Tomeka Reid: cello; shakere; Josh Abrams: bass; Marcus Evans: drums. Ugochi Nwaogwugwu: vocals (2, 4 and 7)
Production Notes: 167 minutes. Recorded: June 8 & 9 2007 at the Velvet Lounge, Chicago. Extras: Nicole Mitchell Commentary (82 minutes); Fred Anderson DVD Trailer (3 minutes)