Afrika Rising Reviews from Cadence Magazine and Exclaim Magazine
By Phillip McNally, Cadence Magazine, 2002
Nicole's second recoding is not to be missed. It is a true discovery, and I urge everyone interested in this music to seek it out. Hearing it reminded me of the first time I heard the Abdullah Ibrahim recordings, or of Randy Weston's incredible work with Melba Liston's arrangements. But since Mitchell plays the flute, composes and arranges, the more appropriate comparison might be the early Blue Note work of James Newton. Indeed, this is for me the most exciting debut on the flute since Newton came to light over twenty years ago. She thanks both Ed Wilkerson and Ernest Dawkins in her comments, and so we can hear her Chicago roots in the Afrocentric work of the AACM, and there is more than a hint of Chicago's Sun Ra in the way she uses group vocals (on the brief Goldmind) and in the cosmic reach of her imagination. Let's face it, those are some big names to throw around. But on the evidence of this one recording, Mitchell is already in that league. I know I will be searching out her first recording, Vision Quest (also on Dreamtime). But a few words on the music; the Black Earth Ensemble varies from a 6tet to a 12tet, but is always keeps the feel of a little big band, reminiscent of Wilkerson's 8 Bold Souls. Mitchell writes well for the ensemble, using lost of fresh colors in the arrangements while keeping space for some serious soloing. Her work on flute is wonderful, stretching the admittedly limited instrument with Rahsaan vocalizations, but she is able to play is straight and pretty too. Yet as well as she plays, this music is about the ensemble. And al the various musicians seem to e deeply part of the group spirit. The first 22 minutes of the recording are devoted to the Afrika Risig Trilogy, an extended piece for 12 players that expands and uses a Weston-like high life ounce to support some strong solos from David Boykin on tenor sax and Tony Herrera on trombone and eventually shells. While a lot of hour long recordings might fade after an opening twenty minutes like that, Afrika Rising just keeps stretching and growing in new dimensions, mixing in gospel with an allusion to "Wade in the Water" and eventually straight out swinging at times. Mitchell is an artist to watch for, and Afrika Rising is a recording you need to discover.
By David Dacks, Exclaim Magazine, Canada, March 2003
Afrika Rising builds on Mitchell's successful debut, Vision Quest, a year ago and is forward-thinking jazz that swings like crazy. Mitchell furthers African rhythms as a compositional strategy with her music at a time when so much music coming out of Chicago is either freely improvised or bolstered by electronic elements. Not that this album stands in complete contrast to these other modes of music making, it just further enriches the vitality of the Chicago scene. "The Afrika Rising Trilogy" gives a 22-minute blast of strings, hand drums, horns and, above all, the leader's flute through insanely catchy riffs; Hamid Drake has never sounded funkier than on this suite, (check out "Metamorphosis!") and that's really saying something considering the man's recorded output. Elsewhere, even the reggae jazz (cringe!) of "Peaceful Village Town" is well executed, with a touch of dub. The arrangements have big and bold harmonies produced by a large ensemble of more than ten people - David Boykin is featured throughout and is great on tenor and clarinet. Some jazz fans may equate her sound with that of Randy Weston, or David Murray's African montages, but there's more contemporary soloing, dissonant harmonies, quirky arrangements ("Bluerise" features some great 'bone by Tony Herrera), and Mitchell's accomplished flute work and vocalisations to set Afrika Rising apart.