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Ed Wilkerson/Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Avreeayl Ra
Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake
Indigo Trio - Live in Montreal
Flutist Nicole Mitchell may not be the most recognizable name on the venerated AACM roster - she falls between the late Art Ensemble bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut and Roscoe Mitchell on the group's website - but her music certainly attains the high standard set by her adventurous peers. It is vast and emotional; drawing from the same deep roots that enable Mitchell and her bandmates to deliver compelling performances night after night. On her two latest releases, Frequency and Indigo Trio: Live in Montreal, Mitchell showcases two of her working bands in both a studio and live setting, giving them the freedom to stretch out, delivering performances she aptly describes in her liner notes as "connected, intuitive and playful , the music of an "adventurous friendship .
On Frequency, saxophonist Edward Wilkerson, bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Avreeayl Ra, all fellow AACM members and frequent collaborators, join Mitchell. The quartet is cohesive and inspired throughout the album's nine tracks, especially on "Take Refuge and "The Tortoise , the set's two burners, and Ra's epic "Satya . By far the longest cut of the album - an episodic 18 minutes - "Satya begins with Ra's light, sparkling cymbal behind languorous contrapuntal lines from the horns. Ra dictates the speed and density of the improvisation, conducting from the drum throne with gradually more insistent cymbal patterns and deep accents, cajoling Wilkerson and Mitchell to ever higher improvisational heights. From the roaring group climax eight minutes in, the bottom falls out for Ra's kalimba and a section reminiscent of Coltrane's "Dear Lord . The group is at its most inspired of the set here, soloing sparsely but powerfully over the bass obligato and Ra's chanting vocal.
Like most of the tracks on Frequency, an understated, but focused air characterizes Live in Montreal. Mitchell's flute seems even more powerful and compelling in front of the vocal audience, drawing once again from the strength of Bankhead's firm, melodic lines and the dynamic, shifting groove and timbres laid down by drummer Hamid Drake. Tracks meld into one another - Welcoming naturally leading to "Thankfulness - and Mitchell's lines soar over the consonant harmonies and rippling drums, adding subtle rubs and rhythmic contrast to the light groove.
"Africa Rising is the showstopper here. Drake establishes an infectious groove that he maintains over the 17-minute track in tandem with Bankhead's booming bass, laying the groundwork for Mitchell to really take off. The sheer range of color and effects Mitchell coaxes from her instrument astounds during the lengthy improvisation; between unaccompanied solos by Drake and Bankhead, her flute flutters, shouts and becomes as focused and piercing as a laser beam. It's truly a wonderful performance and the crowd's enthusiastic response says it all.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Pitiful James; Take Refuge; Satya; Portrait of Light; Fertility Dance; From the Other Side; The Tortoise; Optimystic; Serenity.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flutes, vocals; Edward Wilkerson: sax, clarinet, wood flute; Harrison Bankhead: bass, cello, wood flute; Avreeayl Ra: drums, kalimba, Native American flute, vocals.
Live in Montreal
Tracks: Welcoming; Thankfulness; Afrika Rising; Forest Light; Velvet Lounge Bounce; Stand Strong.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flutes, vocals; Harrison Bankhead: bass, vocals; Hamid Drake: drums.