Flutist, alto flutist, piccolo flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell has received so many honors from jazz magazines and critics over the years it’s a wonder why she hasn’t received more press with feature articles in a wide variety of media outlets. She’s worked with forward-thinking musicians like George Lewis, Miya Masaoka, Lori Freedman, James Newton, Bill Dixon, Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Ed Wilkerson, David Boykin, Rob Mazurek, Hamid Drake and Arveeayl Ra. As an educator and clinician Mitchell has worked in public schools and private institutions like the Vancouver Jazz Festival, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of New Mexico, Cal State University Fullerton and Guelph University, to list just a few. As a composer she has earned a large number of commissions and her position as President of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) has given her the ability to not only share and spread her music, but also that of a wide variety of other advancing musicians.
Renegades is an interesting mix of straight-ahead unabashed swing, blues, traditional classical music concepts, touches of Messiaen and Webern inspired compositional constructs, and hip and catchy melodies, all placed within the context of a chamber ensemble setting. As a composer Mitchell shines from the first to the last note. While she maintains the tradition of improvisational concepts throughout, Mitchell’s ensemble writing, which is used as both a jumping off point for solos and as context contrast, is first rate. The compositions are all elaborate, fully formed, meticulously organized, and obviously thoroughly prepared.
As a flutist Mitchell plays with all of the colors a master musician brings to the table. On "By My Own Grace" Mitchell is both sweet and insistent. On "Wade" she is mildly avant-garde enough to bring forth anguish and a sense of searching, as well as pure enough in tone to change things up early on and move the focus to light, fun and subtle joy.
As both flutist and composer Mitchell imbues "Windance" with an eclectic energy that pulses and prods, is able to make the ensemble phrases in "Ice" and "Mama Found Out" literally dance out of the speakers, and instill "Crossroads" and "Symbology #1" with an energetic mix of energetic spirit with introverted sobriety. The frenzied joy of the title track is both forward thinking and rooted in the swing tradition so solidly it’s obvious Mitchell has no preconceived ideas about what music should be other than an unadulterated reflection of itself.
Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble includes violinist and violist Renee Baker who has worked with David Boykin Expanse, Orbert Davis with Strings Attached, Doug Carn, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. Baker’s playing is informed with classical technique but always finds ways to vigorously point out her own path even as she fulfills the mission of mixing cultures in Mitchell’s compositions. This same attention to detail is present in the playing of cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Josh Abrams and percussionist Shirazette Tinnin. Together this is a more than formidable ensemble. This disc is not only recommended for those who feel boundaries shouldn’t belong in music, but also for classical and jazz lovers who delight in the evolution of Third-Stream Music.