Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble

Black Unstoppable

BY David DacksPublished Jan 21, 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.

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