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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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NICOLE MITCHELL'S BLACK EARTH ENSEMBLE

Black Unstoppable

Delmark DE 575

 

 



 
1. Cause and Effect
2. Black Unstoppable
3. February
4. Love Has No Boundaries
5. Sun Cycles
6. The Creator Has Other Plans For Me
7. Life Wants You to Love
8. Navigator
9. Thanking the Universe
Nicole Mitchell - Flute, alto flute, piccolo
David Boykin - Tenor sax, percussion
David Young - Trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals
Jeff Parker - Guitar
Justin Dillard - Piano (tracks 4, 5, 8)
Tomeka Reid - Cello, shakere
Josh Abrams - Bass
Marcus Evans - Drums
Ugochi Nwaogwugwu - Vocals (tracks 4, 7, 9)

 

Nicole Mitchell plays the flute - indeed, she has twice been voted top in the Rising Star Flautist category in Down Beat magazine. And this album shows why she is an important artist, as she is not only a virtuoso flautist but also an inventive composer. She wrote all the numbers on this CD and they cleverly mix African and jazz rhythms with bluesy soul and plenty of avant-garde freedom and experimentation. The music can sometimes sound chaotic but in this respect it reminds me of the work of Charlie Mingus - another visionary bandleader.

This intriguing mix is present from the very first track, which sounds like a post-bop anthem interleaved with a primitive rhythm. The shifting idioms in the title-track are very reminiscent of Mingus, with scraping bass noises and discordant flute and guitar sounds on top of a jostling beat, which shifts around unpredictably. Despite the occasional hints of anarchy, the music feels structured and therefore remains accessible.

February bounces along quite amiably, although with an undercurrent of menace. Love Has No Boundaries introduces vocalist Ugochi Nwaogwugwu in a fairly straightforward blues, with a middle section that sounds almost like Manhattan Transfer. David Young's solo is steeped in the righteous preaching of the blues, as are the solos by Nicole Mitchell, pianist Justin Dillard and cellist Tomeka Reid. For the first-time listener to the band, this would be a good way in - without too many surprises to be off-putting. The Creator Hs Other Plans For Me has an attractively bouncy beat, with a swirling tenor sax solo from David Boykin and Tomeka Reid supplying a remarkably fluent solo on cello, sounding close to a violin.

Ugochi's vocals on Life Wants You to Love are very powerful (apparently assisted by Nicole singing - not credited on the sleeve). This has an African atmosphere, with shakers and brass riffs. Nicole solos here on the piccolo, soaring heavenwards and slightly ear-splittingly. Navigator has further Mingus echoes with free-form cello, undisciplined piano and wild saxophone. The set ends with Thanking the Universe, propelled by funky riffs beneath Ugochi's optimistic vocal and Jeff Parker's unfettered guitar.

Nicole Mitchell achieves the difficult feat of making the avant-garde palatable by mingling it with more user-friendly elements. There is also a DVD (which I haven't seen) of the same material recorded live at Chicago's Velvet Lounge.

Tony Augarde

 

 

 

 



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