Unique flute work in an intimate quartet setting, supported and stimulated by some of Chicago's finest improvisers: Jeff Parker, guitar; Harrison Bankhead, bass; Avreeayl Ra, drums. Named 2010 Flutist of the Year
in the Down Beat Critic's Poll, she rides the wave into new compositions that explore many colors, moods and rhythmic grooves. Mitchell's earlier projects involved larger groups; Black Earth Ensemble, Black Unstoppable (Delmark CD and DVD) and Black Earth Strings, Renegades. This smaller group setting opens the door for Mitchell to stretch out as a soloist more so than on any of her previous recordings.
Nicole Mitchell's emergence as the jazz flutist of the moment and Jeff Parker's continuing ascension as one of improvisational music's great young guitarists - is only furthered by their work together on Awakening
. Featuring bassist Harrison Bankhead (Mitchell's Indigo Trio partner) and drummer Avreeayl Ra, it's an album of bold, earthy-to-ethereal mood shifts delivered with consummate ease.
As good as her broadly thematic long form works with her larger Black Earth Ensemble are, they tend to hem in Mitchell the soloist. Here, floating freely in space, she gets to show off her full-toned intensity in all its shapes and textures, making sharp but sparing use of dark trills, slurred long notes and vocal effects. (On the steadily changing Turning on a Thread, her wordless intonations suggest the Donald Byrd choirs of the early '60s.)
The tunes include the pithy opening swinger, Curly Top, the gorgeous lament More Than I Can Say and the Indian-tinged Center of the Earth. In unison and counterpoint, Mitchell and Parker suggest the comfort level of a seasoned dance duo. (Parker, a master of texture and tonality himself, ranges from chiming single-note lines and brisk, soulful chording to Derek Bailey-like spiked phrases and electronic eruptions.) And while these four AACM veterans have never played as a quartet before, they sound every bit the long-running working unit. --Lloyd Sachs, Jazz Times
Flautist Nicole Mitchell's generous improvisational abilities are at the musical heart of Awakening. Not only does she move effortlessly from single-note lines and sliding honks to wispy, soft timbres, but she is equally comfortable moving from pure melodic phrasing to more experimental, free content. Coupled with an exceptional trio backing, Mitchell's album crackles with infectious spontaneity. Her music manages to be at once reflective and energetic, accessible as well as clever. --Jack Huntley, All About Jazz
AACM president Nicole Mitchell has been widely celebrated as one of the foremost flautists of current-day jazz, but sometimes her recordings are so jam-packed full of musicians that it's hard to hear her instrument. Not here. Awakening features a lean quartet where she's the only aeropone - all the better to display the full range of her capabilities. Sparring with her is frequent collaborator Jeff Parker, who vacillates between being a lead and accompanying instrument, often several times within the same song. With other frequent associates (bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Avreeayl Ra) providing a muscular rhythm section, Mitchell unleashes some avant flute funk on Journey on a Thread and Center of the Earth, which would blow Herbie Mann away at 20 paces.
She trills, sings through the flute and breaks out a range of other extended techniques to soar over then stab at these rhythms. The sense of space on this disc is unlike anything else in Mitchell's catalog, save frequency, which coincidentally features both Ra and Bankhead. Still, Parker's utility and wide range of electronic contributions elevate this album beyond that project. --David Dacks, Improv & Avant-Garde Review