Review by Brad Walseth
Nicole Mitchell is blazing a trail as perhaps the foremost female jazz instrumentalist/artist/composer of this generation. Downbeat Magazine's Number One Rising Star on flute, Ms. Mitchell never seems to stand still, working with various Black Earth configurations as bandleader, playing with others like Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, and composing virtually non-stop. Recent projects have included a tribute to Alice Coltrane at Millenium Park, appearnces with Mazurek at Jazz Fest and the Green Mill, a tribute to her father and most recently a work based on the works of Afro-American science fiction writer Octavia Butler. As hard as it is to imagine, she also released on Delmark records a new CD of original work, as well as a live DVD at the Velvet Lounge.
Mitchell's works are multi-hued and diverse, often encompessing the AACM free jazz credo with elements of pop, funk, R&B, soul, African traditional sounds and Western classicism. As a composer, she seems very interested in exploring combinations and expanding boundaries with her works offering freedom for the participants to contribute to and color the music.
On these recordings, Mitchell is joined by her counterpart — underappreciated tenor saxophone player David Boykin, cellist Tomeka Reid, trumpeter David Young, bassist Josh Abrams (The Roots), drummer Marcus Evans, guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and vocalist Ugochi Nwaogwugwu. The Cd also offers bright young pianist Justin Dillard.
Throughout both recordings, the rhythm section of Abrams and Evans provides solid support on the often tricky changes. Young plays a fiery trumpet as well as adding some energetic vocals. Parker is one of the best young guitarists on the scene and really stretches out on the DVD. Reid is a young cellist who is making a name for herself playing in many ensembles, while the unsung Boykin is a superb player with energy and intelligence to spare in his playing. Mitchell, of course is a true star on her flutes and is able to add some much variety by changing from regular flute to alto or piccolo. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the pleasing harmonic combination of vocals when Young, Nwaogwugwu and Mitchell sing together as on the delightful "Love Has No Boundaries."
With titles like "Thanking the Universe" and "The Creator Has Other Plans For Me," and songs that veer from tightly composed to the open and free, it is clear that Mitchell wishes to explore the vitality of nature and life itself. Her outlook is from a loving, positive and feminine vision, but that doesn't mean she doesn't know how to swing hard. And as she explains on the commentary track, a song like "Life Wants You To Love," (written for her teenage daughter), is intended to speak to the young with positive messages.
The CD includes two numbers not on the DVD, "Sun Cycles," which begins lovely and ends in beautiful chaos and the post-bopping "Navigator." It also includes the inventive playing of young pianist Dillard, and it is easier and clearer to hear the various parts, especially Reid's cello on the CD. The DVD, on the other hand, offers the musicians more of an opportunity to cut loose and includes Nicole's wonderful commentary track. Additionally, the videography and editing by Delmark is excellent and offers the experience of attending a show in Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge. But why refrain from either experience, pick up both and you'll have the best of both worlds.