Black Unstoppable CD and DVD Reviews from Jazz Times, Exclaim Magazine, AllAboutJazz, BlogCritics and More!

Black Unstoppable

By David Dacks, Exclaim Magazine, Canada, February 2008

The best jazz flautist around today is back with another strong album. Chicago-based Mitchell’s imaginative arrangements showcase her versatile playing in its best light. The album starts in a swinging head/solo/head fashion then moves into more involved song structures as the disc wears on. Jeff Parker’s presence on guitar substitutes for Mitchell’s expansive use of percussion on her first three records. His rhythmic contributions often sit where the percussion once was and on more impressionistic tracks, like the beautiful "Sun Cycles,” adds many different colours. "The Creator Has Other Plans For Me” is a great riff on the title of the too-often covered Leon Thomas/Pharoah Sanders tune, while "Love Has No Boundaries” is greasy blues that breaks into a killer vocal riff by the end of the song. Like the Association for Advancement for Creative Musicians in Chicago, of which she is co-president, her music runs the gamut from blues to minimalism to freedom. Black Unstoppable is brimming with soul, the kind you need in your windy city during these winter months.

Your website states that your Delmark release is the first by a woman instrumentalist in 50 years. Who realised that and when? What kind of difference does it make?

I pointed it out. I was going through their catalogue and asked them. They’ve had plenty of blues singers, but [I asked], "have you had any women instrumentalists?” And they’re like, "oops!” (laughs) I think that shows that people have to pay attention. There were certainly artists who were deserving before I came along.

From an outsider’s perspective, it appears that there’s a fair amount of collaboration between artists associated with Thrill Jockey and the AACM in Chicago. Is this a genuine exchange or is it mostly an album credit phenomenon?

I think there’s always been a collaboration or integration of the scene that hasn’t been widely recognised outside of Chicago. The issue in Chicago is not so much about musicians not coming together; it’s more about location and venues. The relocation of [Fred Anderson’s avant-jazz Mecca] the Velvet Lounge to the "near South side” brought a coming together of a lot of musicians and you see that reflected in the schedule. There’s been a shift and it’s definitely more reflective of the entire Chicago musical landscape.

Black Unstoppable CD

By David Whiteis, Jazz Times, April 2008

The opening moments of “Cause and Effect,” the first track, set the tone: A tough, almost steely unison statement from flutist Mitchell, saxist David Boykin, trumpeter David Young, guitarist Jeff Parker and the tightly wound Black Earth Ensemble rhythm section brightens into an angular, almost playful boppish line. This is a declaration of purpose: There’s joy and dance here, but the underlying message is one of resolute strength and empowerment. Like Max Roach’s, Nicole Mitchell’s music is infused with a spirit of liberation that transcends ideology but must be received to truly immerse oneself in the message of the music.

Few flutists can summon the variety of tones, textures, emotional realms and degrees of light from the instrument that Mitchell can: alternately eider-down tender, knifelike, declamatory and spiritually seeking, her sound—and the fearless way in which she prods her melodic ideas into new, unexpected directions—sometimes seems to invoke virtually the entire range of human possibilities over the course of a solo. Young’s trumpet can sometimes seem uncompromisingly brash, but there’s an underlying tenderness beneath even his harshest statements. Boykin’s tenor sax dances with leonine grace, whether he’s hewing closely to a melody or shattering it into kaleidoscopic shards and then reassembling it in new forms. Again, the politics of the music is clear: new beauty may be achieved through tearing down the old, but the reassembly process takes discipline, vision and commitment.

This is an “ensemble” in the truest sense: duties, responsibilities and even inspiration are shared, passed back and forth, and collectively nurtured. Guitarist Jeff Parker’s leads, ranging from mellow-toned murmurs to Sharrock-esque barbed-wire fusillades, seem to both propel and respond to Marcus Evans’ drum work and bassist Josh Abrams’ steadfast yet supple grounding. Cellist Tomeka Reid lays down extended arco lines, often imbued with a mournful stateliness, even a solemnity, that provide both a musical and emotional anchor for the others (too bad, though, that her nimble-fingered solo chops weren’t showcased more extensively). Vocalist Ugochi Nwaogwugwu is in command of an impressive array of timbral textures, as well as a tightly controlled intonation capable of handling the toughest challenges Mitchell’s melodies can throw at her. The entire performance segues effortlessly between group and individual statements; what might be juxtaposed or at odds in life can be resolved in music and ritual. This is, of course, a profoundly Africanist notion, and it provides yet another important insight into the deeper meaning of what Mitchell and the Black Earth Ensemble are about.

Black Unstoppable

By Troy Collins, AllAboutJazz, December 7, 2007

Co-President of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and voted Down Beat Magazine's # 1 Rising Star Flutist for the past two years, Nicole Mitchell is the most significant jazz flutist of her generation.

A former student of flutist James Newton, Mitchell is a peerless improviser, having fully absorbed the extended vocal techniques pioneered by Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the abstruse verticality of Eric Dolphy. Bolstering emotionally direct lyricism with edgy phrasing and expressive vocalisms without abandoning structure or form, she consistently maintains thematic focus, even in uncharted territory.

Reminiscent of the halcyon days of the Loft Era, Mitchell's writing balances inside and outside aesthetics gracefully, vacillating between extremes of freedom and structure with ease. Skillfully weaving circuitous lines of bracing angularity with accessible, buoyant harmonies that recall the glory days of hard bop, Mitchell's tunes both challenge and entertain.

Mitchell's flagship group, the Black Earth Ensemble, epitomizes the AACM's credo—Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future." Trafficking in advanced post-bop structures, free-form improvisation, stirring blues, passionate soul, simmering funk and even Afro-Beat, the Black Earth Ensemble offers a kaleidoscopic array of the finest African-American musical traditions.

Their fourth album, but first for Delmark, Black Unstoppable follows Vision Quest (2001), Afrika Rising (2002), and Hope, Future and Destiny (2004), all on Dreamtime Records. Available as a studio recorded CD and a live performance DVD, both editions of Black Unstoppable catch the band up close and personal, in brilliant sonic detail.

The Black Earth Ensemble features a stellar line-up of some of Chicago's finest improvisers. Ubiquitous guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise, New Horizons) displays boundless creativity, ranging from supple, linear introspection to acerbic, EFX-laden abstraction. Stalwart bassist Josh Abrams serves alongside cellist Tomeka Reid, a rising presence on the Windy City's vibrant jazz scene.

Lesser known, but no less accomplished, saxophonist David Boykin and trumpeter David Young form a dynamic front line with Mitchell. Boykin's turbulent tenor tantrums and Young's highly vocalized mute work add a broad sense of stylistic diversity to the group. Rounding out the ensemble are drummer Marcus Evans, playing with subtle restraint throughout; and pianist Justin Dillard, who guests on three tunes.

Singer Ugochi Nwaogwugwu contributes soulful vocals, engaging in a robust blues duet with David Young on "Love Has No Boundaries," and soaring over the infectious Afro-Beat groove of "Life Wants You to Love." With rousing soul power, she leads "Thanking the Universe," spurring the instrumentalists onward and upward.

An enthralling blend of styles and genres unified by an organic sensibility, Black Unstoppable is a definitive statement from the new face of the AACM, and a tribute to the organization's longevity.

Black Unstoppable DVD

By Jerry D’Souza, AllAboutJazz, February 13, 2008

Nicole Mitchell is probably best known for her work in jazz, but she recently has explored classical and African music as well as rhythm & blues and soul. She puts it all together impressively, letting the music speak loud and clear of the passion that beats within her. Her approach reflects the philosophy of a singular artist who has a different way of seeing the world. The Black Earth Ensemble is one of the many voices for her music. The group, which fluctuates from five to nine members, comprised seven musicians on the two nights that the concerts on this DVD were recorded.

Mitchell shows the various stylistic impulses that inform her music. Classical music weighs in with Tomeka Reid's cello on "The Creator Has Other Plans For Me. Mitchell jumps into swing on the flute, establishing the melody before she lets the structure billow and swell with a host of earthy progressions. David Young has a honeyed flugelhorn as he sets his course, then goes off on a tangent that suddenly snaps into the song's harmony before adding a delectable dash of New Orleans flavour.

Love Has No Boundaries is a blues tune on which Ugochi Nwaogwugwu showcases her soulful singing, revealing her deep timbre and heartfelt approach to song. Young lays out a wailing line on the trumpet, effectively using the plunger, and when he sings, his rasp is the perfect foil for Nwaogwugwu. Mitchell's long lines cry with passion, her short ones throb with intensity, and together they raise the art of the flute to inventive sonic levels. Marcus Evans' thick, juicy notes on the guitar open direct declamation and, together with his use of space, make for a high degree of communication.

On "February" Mitchell plays the alto flute for a lower sound. She crafts the ballad marvellously, inflecting it with a gentle lilt and buoyancy, segueing into the pastoral and bringing in free-floating notes. By contrast, David Boykin has a compact authority on tenor saxophone. He never shies from being assertive or adventurous, yet he knows what the boundaries are and avoids slipping into a formless abyss. He commands the road during his solo, which provides a cogent exposition and fleshing of the theme.

From these strongly individualistic compositional and solo strengths comes music that is sublime, provocative and challenging.

Black Unstoppable CD

by Michael G. Nastos, AllMusic 2008

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.

Black Unstoppable CD

By Brad Walseth, jazzchicago.net, 2008

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.

 

Black Unstoppable CD

By Bill Meyer, Dusted Reviews, July 24, 2008

Nicole Mitchell is an award-winning composer, a well-regarded jazz flutist, a multi-tasking bandleader and participant in the collectives Frequency and Indigo Trio, and along with Jeff Parker and Mike Reed, the best known of the younger musicians who have kept the AACM (Association For the Advancement Of Creative Musicians) from turning into a free jazz chapter of the AARP.

Her star is especially ascendant in her hometown of Chicago, where she staged a tribute Alice Coltrane in Chicago’s Millenium Park. Mitchell might be forgiven for feeling a tad self-conscious at this moment in her career, but the Judgment Day Testimony included in Black Unstoppable’s liner notes takes it awfully far. It proclaims her refusal “to be silenced by the commerce of noise,” her devotion to blackness, femininity, the education of children, and her desire to be “a life force for beauty and betterment.”

Her intentions are unassailable, but the burden of that sense of importance and makes Mitchell’s music sag. This is especially true on the three vocal numbers voiced by Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, where Mitchell couches Afrocentric Hallmark sentiments within genre-hopping tunes; “Love Has No Boundaries” is a rather pastel blues, while “Life Wants You To Love’s” rather dire gospel-style exposition of adolescent sexuality is only partly redeemed by a gritty Afro-beat groove. Great tunes can usually trump trite verbiage, but too often the solos on Black Unstoppable are stronger than the melodies from which they spring.

Which isn’t to say that this record is a complete flop. Mitchell has a great, even tone, and her solos jump out of the intricate charts like flying fish kiting off of waves; her maneuvers in and out of “Life Wants You to Love’s” rhythm is especially thrilling. And she’s assembled a pretty strong group of musicians with a balance of musical personalities that enable the Ensemble to negotiate the inside-outside divide and cover the range of jazz epochs and other styles that Mitchell likes to incorporate into her music. Saxophonist David Boykin brings the fire on the title track, and the way he twists a fairly lyrical opening gambit into a coarse, spiraling wormhole that defies the boundaries of breath is pretty marvelous. Trumpeter David Young’s volleys over “Cause And Effect’s jittery refrain remind me of a time (over 40 years ago, I’m afraid) when Freddie Hubbard played with fire, while his muted solo in the middle of “The Creator Has Other Plans For Me” poses a pointed lyrical counterpoint to Mitchell’s elaborate lines. And Jeff Parker is his usual versatile self, ranging from idiomatically correct chords to scrunched electronic accents. Mitchell has chops and a strong band. Maybe she needs a producer willing to cut out the weak spots.

Black Unstoppable DVD

By Richard Marcus, BlogCritics.org, December 12, 2007

Quick, name another Jazz flutist aside from Eric Dolphy. Did you even know that Eric Dolphy was a flutist? Are you having trouble?

Okay let us make it a little easier shall we? Name one flutist, no matter what type of music they play. James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal are names that might ring a bell with some people, both having strayed into popular music on occasion. Aside from them, there just aren't that many well known flutists, and even those aren't household names. For some reason the flute just hasn't seemed to be able to capture the public's imagination like other instruments.

It's sort of odd when you consider that aside from the drum the flute is one of the most common and oldest instruments in most cultures. Whether made from bamboo, cedar, or in some cases clay, they are played by blowing into or across a hollow core carved out of the material, with six holes or elaborate set ups like concert flutes to control the air flow. They all operate on the same basic principle of air exhaled equals music.

The problem with the flute is, unlike some wind instruments, it requires a great deal of finesse in order to play. For those of you who have ever experimented with a recorder you may have noticed that the harder you blow into the mouthpiece the less likely you are to produce sound.  Playing flutes of any style requires an amazing amount of breath control. To play it with any success, you have to learn to synchronize your breathing with the rhythm of any song that you are playing and be able to quickly change from long sustained exhalations to short bursts and back again.

Unfortunately the lack of flutists seems to be self-perpetuating. So very few people play flute in North America that not many people consider it a solo instrument. Therefore there aren't the examples of flute players out there for people to follow like there are guitarists, saxophonists, and trumpeters.

When Nicole Mitchell first started playing flute she remembers she chose the instrument before she chose jazz. Nobody around her considered her instrument of choice to be a jazz instrument.

It wasn't until she was in her sophomore year of university that she found out there were jazz flutists. Her instructor took a little piece of paper, wrote the words Eric Dolphy on it, and sent her to the library. A whole new world opened up to her. She started taking private classes with flutist James Newton, (paying for them by busking on the streets of San Diego), and ended up at Oberlin's Conservatory in Ohio where she studied composition as well as performance.

In 1993 she ended up back in Chicago and has quickly established herself as a presence in a town full of gifted musicians. Novelty wears off quickly, and nowhere as quickly among professional musicians, meaning that Nicole's popularity is due to her talent and not because she's one of only a small number of jazz flutists. This is confirmed by the recognition she has received from magazines like Downbeat, winner of their Rising Star award three times, and her status within the Chicago music community where she is currently Co-President of the famed Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians.

Of course where it really matters is what she does on stage, and now thanks to the good folk over at Delmark Records there are two great opportunities to hear her and her amazing band, Black Earth Ensemble. Black Unstoppable - Live At The Velvet Lounge is a DVD recording of the band earlier this year, while the CD of the same name, (minus the Live bit) are studio recordings of the material performed on the DVD.

I have to be honest; I had no idea what to expect when I popped the DVD into my player. Flutes, in my experience, are an instrument that have long been subject to abuse. They either are used to make airy fairy new age crap, or turned into something so shrill and discordant that listening is painful. Nicole Mitchell laid all my fears to rest from the opening notes of the first song on the DVD. She has to be one of the most singularly gifted musicians I've heard in a long time, let alone flutist, and her compositions reflect her ability.

Her technique on the flute is immaculate, the flow of music is never interrupted, and you swear she doesn't take a breath from the beginning to the end of a tune. Notes cascade from the end of her flute to form patterns of sound that are both melodic and exciting. Like other gifted musicians, she never lets herself be wed to one area of the scale and  her solos makes full use of all the octaves available to create the richest aural tapestry possible.

Musically, she covers the spectrum from the freest of free form jazz, to funk, blues, and pieces that combine all three elements in glorious celebrations of melody and rhythm. One piece, "Black Unstoppable" approaches the very edge of discordance at moments - even slipping over on occasion - but even then, there is a lightness of spirit that prevents it from being completely unsettling.

The ebullience underlying that piece appears to be an extension of Nicole's character that permeates everything she does on stage. It's like she takes the "play" part of playing music literally, and that means you have fun and never take yourself seriously. I don't know if I've ever seen a performer who smiles as much as she does while performing, and seeing that makes you feel like there is no other place she'd rather be than right here, right now, playing music for you.

For the recording of Live At The Velvet Lounge her band, Black Earth Ensemble, consisted of trumpet, saxophone, guitar, bass, cello, and a vocalist. What I found wonderful was that all of the instruments were incorporated into the music with none serving as window dressing. It's not often that you'll see a cellist given the opportunity to take a lead, or even have their instrument high up in the mix, as was the case on this recording.

They are an amazingly skilled group of players, and it was wonderful to see them interacting and reacting to each other during the improvisational parts of the material. They would all automatically attune to the lead's patterns and work to support him or her instinctively. Obviously they have been playing together for a long time in order for that level of communication to exist, but it also shows a willingness to listen that I don't often see anymore even among Jazz musicians.

One of the things that made watching Black Unstoppable - Live At The Velvet Lounge so enjoyable was the effort that Delmark Records has put into its production. Not only do you get the now standard 5.1 dts. surround sound, the filming and editing job is on a par with discs produced by major studios. They used five cameras in filming the concert and were able to get some wonderful, and unusual footage during various solos. The two that stick out the most for me were a close-up on the lower hand of the saxophone player during his solo that was held for over a minute, and a shot of the cello player taken from below the bridge looking up towards her fingers as she plucked the strings during a solo.

Not only did both of these shots give you a feel for what the musicians were experiencing as they played, they created an intimacy that you don't often get in performance DVDs. These types of techniques are becoming a hallmark of concert disks produced by Delmark. I don't think I'd ever hesitate to recommend a DVD produced by these folk in terms of their technical values, as I've yet to see one where the sound or visual quality has not enhanced my enjoyment of the concert.

Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble Black Unstoppable - Live At The Velvet Lounge is an amazing jazz concert. The music is wonderful and the production values are great - what more could you ask for?

 

 

Black Unstoppable CD

By Steve Taiclet, Foxy Digitalis, November 28, 2007

 

Acclaimed jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell has been among the leading lights of Chicago?s thriving improvised music scene for many years now, performing with projects such as Frequency, the Indigo Trio, and Rob Mazurek?s Exploding Star Orchestra. The Black Earth Ensemble, however, is the primary vehicle for Mitchell?s compositions and creative vision and ?Black Unstoppable? is their fourth full-length release.

 

As would befit a group led by the current co-president of the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the material on this album incorporates the diverse range of “Great Black Music” from the blues, the sounds of New Orleans, pop vocals, and straight forward jazz to more modern, avant-garde jazz, and even hints of R & B/soul and African musical influences. Mitchell is excellent on flute and piccolo throughout and the ensemble, which includes such luminaries as Josh Abrams (bass), David Boykin (tenor saxophone), Jeff Parker (guitar/mindblowing effects), and rising star David Young (trumpet/flugelhorn), is incredibly tight, the somewhat brief solo segments impressive, and the overall production top notch, clear and clean. Highlights include the alternately swinging and slammin? opening track "Cause & Effect", the blues stomper "Love Has No Boundaries" (which is one of several tracks featuring vocalist Ugochi Nwaogwugwu), the better of the disc’s two more experimental pieces ?Sun Cycles?, and the album?s centerpiece "The Creator Has Other Plans For Me". With Black Unstoppable, Mitchell?s Black Earth Ensemble have created an excellent set of music that honors the traditions of jazz, while also looking forward to potential future musical horizons.

Black Unstoppable DVD

By Nic Jones, AllAboutJazz, May 25, 2008

This DVD is representative of lighter, airier aspects of flautist Nicole Mitchell's music, and the seven- piece Black Earth Ensemble puts a whole new spin on the notion through skillful deployment. The music is never forced and always the product of organic growth. Delmark's customary no-frills presentation of a live set ensures that the focus remains on the musicians throughout, and they breathe life into the music in a way that can only come from an ensemble schooled but not drilled in a leader's music.

Caught over two nights in June of 2007 the continuity between one set and the other lends this document a seamless quality. It also affords the viewer and listener the opportunity to appreciate the multiplicity of voices within the group, all of them seemingly intuitively appreciative of the music's history. Thus the swagger in the playing of tenor saxophonist David Boykin is right in the pocket beneath the vocalising of Mitchell, Ugochi Nwaogwugwu and trumpeter David Young on "Love Has No Boundaries" before the latter instrumentalist evokes the spirit of Cootie Williams while hinting broadly at the best and most raucous of times.

"The Creator Has Other Plans For Me" at times comes on like a soulful, less cerebral version of the Jimmy Giuffre trio with Jim Hall, but here the music is grounded in entirely different soil, with Mitchell herself pleasingly showing no overt, dominant stylistic allegiance despite the passing references to Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

"Black Unstoppable," the title piece, is indicative of the range of Mitchell's music, characterized by low volume yet containing overtly active passages idiomatically reminiscent of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, while guitarist Jeff Parker's string manipulations call Fred Frith to mind. It all makes for the most intriguing piece here, not least because it suggests whole worlds of musical possibility.

At a push, however, it might be the attempts of Albert Ayler in his later years to produce a more inclusive music that are the most pertinent point of reference. On this occasion the ideal is closer to realization, and the set-closing "Thanking The Universe" is ample evidence. Boykin's blend of the cerebral and the gutbucket encapsulates the quest, and the impassioned vocalizing of Mitchell and Nwaogwugwu gives the whole a positive spin.