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Audio CD, May 24, 2011
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Product Description

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

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 24, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Delmark
  • ASIN: B004QVMTT4
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,323 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Five AMAZING Stars! The award-winning jazz flautist Nicole Mitchell in this quartet setting shows phenomenal flute wizardry on compositions either intricately bright or beautifully exotic & free with a definite rhythmic underpinning! This recording is further evidence that we are witnessing the changing of the guard in jazz flute playing, and one established flute star has stated Nicole is doing unique things, pushing the envelope of both playing and composing. She has earned Rising Star Flutist awards year after year in the DownBeat Critics Polls, culminating in a tie in the 'established flutist' category in 2010 with the great sax/flutist Lew Tabackin and an outright #1 Flutist win in the 2011 DownBeat International Critics Poll (while again taking the Rising Star Award in a clean sweep of both categories). As on this CD, she has extraordinary technique; blindingly fast fingering; a beautiful burnished tone among an arsenal of tones and sounds; wonderful vibrato; brilliant ideas both as a composer and soloist; and circular breathing, which allows her extended freedom of expression without pausing for a conventional breath. She has been a leader in the free and experimental jazz vanguard and, as shown here, can play 'inside' or 'outside' of conventional jazz. NIcole is accompanied by an excellent trio of musicians: the dazzling Jeff Parker's potent guitar playing, Harrison Bankhead's exceptional bass playing, and the inventive rhythms of drummer Avreeayl Ra. The 'best of the best' begins with "Curly Top" an 'almost' conventional 4/4 blues but you can tell right away something strikingly different is going on in her playing with the angular ideas and execution. "Snowflakes" and "F.O.C." are beautiful, striking tone poems.Read more ›
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Read-Only on July 2, 2012
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Nicole Mitchell is primarily known for fairly avant-garde compositional projects. This is a simple quartet date with Jeff Parker on guitar, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Avreeayl Ra on drums. The album is surprisingly listenable. Parker provides tasty backing and solos, getting more notes than anyone else. I'm always a little surprsied when I hear him in a more traditional jazz mode, since he is more likely to be heard with Tortoise or one of the Chicago cutting-edge groups. The compositions are melodic, often with what sounds to me like a Middle Eastern tinge. Some of the songs are attractively bluesy. In a word, it is all good.

You could play this CD with company or even as background music, though it will repay closer listening. My main complaint was that there was a certain sameness to the project. A greater variety in sound or composition would have kept up my interest all the way to the end of the CD. If you could randomly play 6 cuts each time you put it on, you would probably enjoy it all the way through.
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