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Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings: Renegades

John Barron By

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Flutist Nicole Mitchell has been earning much deserved praise as of late for her various Chicago-based projects. Mitchell was voted Jazz Flutist of the Year in 2008 by the Jazz Journalist Association and in 2006 the Chicago Tribune named her Chicagoan of the Year.

On Renegades, Mitchell's second release for Delmark Records, the Co-President of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) takes the listener on a fun, unpredictable ride with her boisterous Black Earth Strings quintet, consisting of violinist/violist Renee Baker, percussionist Shirazette Tinnin, bassist Josh Abrams, and cellist Tomeka Reid. Abrams and Reid both appeared on Mitchell's 2007 Black Earth Ensemble release for Delmark, Black Unstoppable.

With elements of free-jazz, bebop, funk, Afro-Cuban, and classical it's hard to categorize Mitchell's music. One thing for certain, however, is the level of camaraderie between musicians, interpreting Mitchell's challenging, yet soulful compositions. Intricately contrapuntal, pre-conceived ideas ("No Matter What," "Wade," "Aaya's Rainbow") sit side-by-side with open-ended, free form structures ("Symbology #1," "Symbology #2," "Symbology #2a").

The piccolo can be a dangerous instrument in the wrong hands. The instrument's high-pitched piercing sound doesn't always lend itself to spontaneous flourishes. Fortunately, Mitchell is able to coax warm tones out of the instrument on the jagged "No Matter What," one of the more engaging tracks on the disc.

Baker and Reid give compelling performances, melding easily with Mitchell's animated approach. Abrams' looming bass keeps a relenting pace throughout. The bassist swings as hard as anyone with strong walking lines on tunes such as "Ice" and "Wade." Tinnin is commanding with an explosive flurry of funk on "What If" and a hard swinging back-and-forth with Abrams on "Mama Found Out."

A disc worthy of repeated listening, Renegades sheds further light on Mitchell's ever-evolving creativity.

Track Listing: Crossroads; No Matter What; Ice; Windance; Renegades; Be My Own Grace; What If; Symbology #2A; Wade; Waterdance; Symbology #1; Mama Found Out; If I Could Have You The Way I Want You; Symbology #2; Waris Dirie; Aaya's Rainbow.

Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute, alto flute, piccolo, vocals; Renee Baker: violin, viola; Tomeka Reid: cello; Josh Abrams: bass, gimbre; Shirazette Tinnin: drums, percussion.

Title: Renegades | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Delmark Records


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