Nicole Mitchell

Black Unstoppable

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Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble is assembled here for its fourth recording and first for the Delmark label. The intent is to play original music that synthesizes not only their complete history as a premier representative of the Chicago progressive aesthetic, but that offers a new direction in which they were headed. Combining funk and southside blues with improvisation as developed as those within the ranks of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Mitchell and her very potent band stay true to the roots and branches of the music while reaching for a higher ground. The flute playing of Mitchell does not reflect the harmonically overblown Eric Dolphy, but is closer to the ultra-melodic ideas of her mentor, James Newton, while avoiding his hyperbolic or atmospheric trappings. The cohesiveness of the group, cemented by the tenor sax playing of David Boykin and the trumpet of David Young, allows for some astounding music in combining the aforementioned elements with accessible sounds even for the less seasoned or challenged listener. For instance, "The Creator Has Other Plans for Me" holds interest over 13 bopping minutes in a midtempo beat, as the bright unison between flute, tenor sax, and trumpet is undeniable, and their individual solos are also tasty and brief enough. 6/8 and 5/4 time signatures switch seemingly at will during the title track, a swirling concept with a solo passage from cellist Tomeka Reid, and Jeff Parker's diffuse guitar in the middle of the circling horn section interrupts and introduces a dour funk in multiple fragments. Mitchell's free or cemented-in-beat flute is never overblown, only at rare times embellished, and three-dimensional in nature. While a bit spastic during "February," with the strings in a pretty yet gray chamber fashion accented by triplet features, she's delicate alongside bells and percussion for the early morning "Sun Cycles." Closest to the Art Ensemble of Chicago or AACM/Great Black Music concept, "Cause & Effect" is a fun, strutting, funky blues and boppish swing, as Mitchell's tiny flute notes contrast the big guitar of Parker and the fine bass of Josh Abrams. "Navigator" has the kind of mixed meter emphasis and spiky horn charts that raise the ire of the ear, while "Thanking the Universe" is a deep blue funk and southside R&B/pop type groove tune Lester Bowie would approve of. Poetry and calypso combines during "Life Wants You to Live" emphasizing the contradictory line "your body is a woman, but your mind is still a child," while "Love Has No Boundaries" is a hard bop anthem where the theme of "love me like I deserve" represents a female anthem for modern, and all times. There's a DVD available of these performances, easily as scintillating as the audio portion alone. Black Unstoppable documents Mitchell's complete concept, diverse thoughts, and ever potent musical gifts without resorting to existential theories -- a woman's touch definitely gracing the powerful AACM aesthetic in a very positive light.

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