"Black Unstoppable"
Nicole Mitchell
Black Earth Ensemble
Live DVD/CD Release Party

Velvet Lounge, Chicago,IL
Nov. 7, 2007

Nicole Mitchell
Nicole Mitchell

Story and Photos by James Walker

Nicole Mitchell and her Black Earth Ensemble debuted their new DVD/CD "Black Unstoppable" at a Release Party at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge on Nov. 7, 2007. Accompanying Nicole on this evening was David Boykins on tenor sax, David Young on trumpet, Tomeka Reid on cello, Josh Abrams on bass, Marcus Evans on drums and Justin Dillard on keys. Vocalist Ugochi Nwaogwugwu joined the ensemble on several songs. During this set, Justin replaced guitarist Jeff Parker from the original DVD/CD recording in June.

Because of Nicole's status and recognition in the Chicago Jazz secene, this project and release party was anticipated with high expectations by this writer. Not only is Ms. Mitchell an accomplished flautist, she is also an extremely talented composer/arranger. Each piece of music during this set was composed and arranged by Nicole.

From the top of this set, it was quite evident that David Boykins' rapid fire runs and David Young's fast, bright trumpet flourishes that this could be a very special evening of music by this extraordinary group of musicians. These horns were hot from the start, with each taking turns soloing during the first number, "Cause and Effect."

Vibrant vocalist Ugochi joined the ensemble to perfrom a stirring rendition of Mitchell's "Love Has No Boundaries." She was accompanied on backgrounds by Nicole and David Young. Boykins also had a fine sax solo on this "bluesy" tune. Ugochi is a versatile singer, grounded in several genres including Jazz, R&B, Hip-Hop, Blues and Reggae. This tune truly could become a timeless piece of music. Ugochi sang this song from the heart, and all ensemble members had an opportunity to solo during this piece of music. This is a credit to Nicole's uncanny ability to recognize her talented musicians and share the bandstand with all.

Ironically, it was during this piece, to the amazement of all assembled, that basist Josh Abrams abruptly stopped playing, departed the bandstand and took a seat at the bar. The bridge of his bass simply came apart. Nicole didn't panic, she discretely shared the information with cellist Tomeka Reid, who expertly took over the bass line using her cello. Again, this was a demonstration of the caliber of musicians assembled, which did not inhibit this group from continuing without missing a beat.

On the next tune, "The Creator Has Other Plans For Me," Tomeka had to work overtime as she was now providing most of the bass lines from the cello. What a testament to the young musician's talent and skill. This was a beautiful mid-tempo tune that was highlighted by a "gospel-like" beat from pianist Justin Dillard. Miraculously, toward the conclusion of the song, bassist Josh Abrams returned to the Velvet with another upright bass. This was about an hour after the mishap with his bass that he returned to conclude this song with a solo. This writer is still amazed as to where he was able to locate another bass at 10:00 p.m., during the middle of the first set, which concluded with "Thanking the Universe," featuring vocalist Ugochi.

This was genuinely an exceptional night of music with the entire band playing with a valiant spirit that produced a flowing polyrhythmic pulse. Mitchell doesn't take all the solo spots so much as she introduces the themes and acts a catalyst for her impressive bandmates. Mitchell is a virtuoso who is joined by the very solid group of musicians, who offered the audience a nicely varied program of eclectic jazz.

Special mention must be given to saxophonist David Boykins, who played throughout the evening with the fiery energy and creative spark that he's noted for. He displayed plenty of deep improvisation and pleasnt outbursts of creative brilliance. Youthful David Young also stunned the crowd with his blazing chops during the first set.

This was undoubtedly an exciting evening for the Black Earth Ensemble, but one can not say enough anout the project's leader. Nicole Mitchell is a creative soul, dedicated to empowering young musicians to be the best they can be, while fulfilling her dreams of unapologetically creating the type of music that allows her to continue to grow and expand her horizons. Unfortunately, on this evening, the Velvet was not filled to capacity, but those in attendance were extremely appreciative and the beneficiaries of some profound and inspiring music.

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