Nicole Mitchell and the Black Earth Ensemble Vision Quest

This is an exciting new step for the AACM. Mitchell has been a member of the Chicago jazz culture collective for ten years but this is her debut as a leader. Vision Quest is an amazingly assured album, which sounds unmistakably AACM, but is an original blend of ideas in its own right. This music recalls Leroy Jenkins, but frankly it's better than quite a number of Jenkins' more groove-oriented albums. It is a profoundly soulful album that will hopefully inject a rougher edge into the groove-dominated nu-jazz. Mitchell, a flautist with great technique, has assembled an unusual line-up of two violins, a bassist, a drummer and percussionist. Mitchell writes arrangements that are truly African, not just a inspirational name check - the strings and flute play essential roles in the polyrhythms and the drums and percussion aren't holding the entire rhythm down. Of course, when the drummer is Hamid Drake, and the percussionist is ex-Arkestran Avreeayl Ra, the groove will never be straight. There is an abundance of different song structures on the disc, multi-part suites, short interludes and group improvisations. The players are outstanding, both as a unit and individually, but special mention must be made of Darius Savage's bass work and Mitchell's versatility as a soloist. Her technique of singing into her flute is somewhat different that Roland Kirk's, and makes for some spooky harmonies. Vision Quest is both dissonant and groovy all the way through, and that is worth celebrating. (Dreamtime)