Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader
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click to enlarge Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble 

When: Sun., June 19, 7:30 p.m. 2016
Price: $10
Over the last five years or so, as flutist Nicole Mitchell has gravitated toward composing thematic suites with stretches of notated material, she’s quite naturally become more interested in expanding her band’s personnel. Her stunning new album Moments of Fatherhood (Rogue Art) is inspired by a collection of photographs portraying affluent African-Americans that W.E.B. Du Bois put together for the “American Negro” exhibit at the 1900 World’s Expo in Paris as a challenge to racist stereotypes. Mitchell wrote the music in part to honor her father, who died in 2012, but also to celebrate the state of African-American fatherhood at a time when, as she writes in her liner-note essay, “the gestures of care and commitment of African American fathers continue to be overlooked and unappreciated.” She recorded the music with saxophonist David Boykin and violist Renèe Baker, two of her most trusted Chicago collaborators, along with clarinetist Sylvain Kassap’s Parisian Ensemble Laborintus and the remarkable New York-based Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz—but while the cast is the most international grouping of her career so far, the music stands as some of her most unified and driven. A piece like “Explorers,” which moves easily in and out of new-music terrain, reveals a stunning new confidence in her ensemble writing while retaining the rhythmic fluidity at its heart. For the work’s Chicago premiere Mitchell has assembled a local cast with Baker, cellist Tomeka Reid, clarinetist James Falzone, vibist Chris Sies, drummer Marcus Evans, bassist Alex Wing, and saxophonist Jarrard Harris, along with Ortiz, whose presence is especially exciting. One of the most thrilling pianists at work today, he made a grand statement with his trio earlier this year on the record Hidden Voices (Intakt).
— Peter Margasak

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