Considering Nicole Mitchell's connection to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), some listeners might expect Renegades to be much more radical than it actually is. But then, the AACM has never been about dogma or dictating that musicians have to sound a certain way; it has been about options. And on Renegades, Mitchell opts for an inside/outside approach that is generally more inside than outside -- and for all its abstraction, intellect, and angularity, this 2008 date is fairly melodic. The acoustic quintet that Mitchell leads on Renegades is billed as Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings; in contrast to her larger Black Earth Ensemble, this post-bop/avant-garde unit (mildly avant-garde instead of radically avant-garde) doesn't include any trumpet or sax. The only wind player is flutist Mitchell, and her accompaniment includes Renee Baker on violin and viola, Tomeka Reid on cello, Josh Abrams on upright bass, and Shirazette Tinnin on drums and percussion. Baker and Reid's strings do a lot to shape the sound of Mitchell's quintet, which incorporates elements of Euro-classical chamber music but has strong African, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences as well. Occasionally, Mitchell sings, bringing a bluesy soulfulness to "By My Own Grace." But this 67-minute CD is mostly instrumental -- and while Mitchell is a likable vocalist, the flute is her main vehicle for jazz expression. Many admirers of Mitchell's Black Unstoppable CD/DVD were no doubt hoping that the Chicago resident would follow that 2007 recording up with another Black Earth Ensemble date. But her Black Earth Strings group is equally impressive in its own right, and excellence prevails throughout the engrossing Renegades.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson