9 Songs, 46 Minutes

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About Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell is an award-winning flutist, composer, bandleader, and educator. She has been an integral part of the avant-jazz and experimental music scenes since the early '90s, and a former president of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

Mitchell was born in Syracuse, New York in 1967, and her family relocated to Anaheim, California when she was nine years old. In Anaheim, she began to study music first on piano and then viola, and as a teen she switched to flute. Classically trained while in high school, she played in school and local youth orchestras. She matriculated to the University of California in San Diego as a math major, but after taking a jazz class with Jimmy Cheatham, she became obsessed with the music, and in 1987, after two years, transferred to Oberlin College.

Mitchell moved again in 1990, this time to Chicago. She worked for Third World Publishing -- a publishing house that focuses on black culture -- and busked on the streets. Her travels through the city brought her into contact with members of the AACM (she joined in 1995), and she began playing with a female ensemble called Samana. Mitchell stood out; she was soon being asked to lend her flute to projects by musicians like David Boykin, Ed Wilkerson, Daniel Givens, and Capital D, to name a few. Near the end of the decade she began teaching at Chicagoland institutions including Northern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Wheaton College, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Mitchell issued Vision Quest, her debut with her band the Black Earth Ensemble (featuring violinists Savoir Faire and Edith Yokley, bassist Darius Savage, and percussionists Hamid Drake and Avreeayl Ra). Vision Quest received uniformly positive reviews from the Chicago music press. A year later, her Afrika Rising arrived on Dreamtime Records (a label she established with Boykin), but her press coverage was expanding, with national press outlets beginning to notice her as well. Her first truly large-scale work was 2004's Hope, Future and Destiny, the score for a large multi-disciplinary performance work for over 50 participants in a multitude of media forms, its studio cast including Boykin, Tomeka Reid, Josh Abrams, and Tony Herrera, to name a few. In 2006, The Chicago Tribune voted her Chicagoan of the Year. Mitchell moved her Black Earth Ensemble to Delmark for Black Unstoppable in 2007, which was celebrated internationally for its bold new music and its leader's technical gifts as an instrumentalist and composer. In addition to the aforementioned players, guitarist Jeff Parker had joined the ever-evolving ensemble.

A year later, Mitchell issued the landmark Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler for Firehouse 12. The work was commissioned by Chamber Music America and premiered at Vision Festival XII in New York City. It was based on Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy of novels and was the first of Mitchell's works to be regarded under the umbrella of Afro-Futurism, though all of her previous work had also been informed by its tenets. Arriving in 2009, Anaya was her debut album for France's Rogue Art label -- she had performed in Europe extensively by that time -- which has since been a regular home for her work. That year she also created Honoring Grace: Michelle Obama for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. In 2010, Mitchell released Renegades on Delmark, her first recorded collaboration with her Black Earth Strings, a chamber group comprising cellist Tomeka Reid, gimbri and bass player Josh Abrams, violinist/violist Renée Baker, and drummer/percussionist Shirazette Tinnin; 2010 also marked the first of four consecutive years Mitchell won Top Flutist of the Year from both the Jazz Journalists Association and the Down Beat Critics Poll. She also released a quartet date featuring pianist Craig Taborn, saxophonist Boykin, and drummer Chad Taylor entitled Emerald Hills for Rogue Art.

Mitchell was prolific in 2011. The Ethiopian Princess Meets the Tantric Priest, the debut from the Indigo Trio (with Drake and Harrison Bankhead), and Before After with Joëlle Léandre and Dylan van der Schyff were both released by Rogue Art, while Awakening, a quartet date with Bankhead, Parker, and drummer Avreeayl Ra appeared from Delmark. In addition, her composition Flight for Freedom for Creative Flute and Orchestra: A Tribute to Harriet Tubman was premiered with the Chicago Composers' Orchestra in December. She was also a recipient of the prestigious Alpert Award in the Arts. The following year, the flutist released two collaborative albums: Arc of O (For Improvisers, Chamber Orchestra and Electronics) with an_ARCHE NewMusic Ensemble (a Polish chamber group), and Three Compositions with Roscoe Mitchell, both on Rogue Art. She was also a member of the first class of recipients of the Doris Duke Artist Awards. In 2013, Mitchell debuted her quartet Ice Crystal on the album Aquarius for Delmark. The band also featured vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Frank Rosaly, and Abrams on bass. Engraved in the Wind, Mitchell's first-ever solo flute recording, was also offered by Rogue Art. In 2014 the label released The Secret Escapades of Velvet Anderson (a tribute to mentor and saxophonist Fred Anderson), offering her flute playing in a quartet setting with Taborn, Boykin, and Taylor. The same year, Intergalactic Beings, an archival Black Earth Ensemble date from 2010 -- also drawing from the writing of Butler -- was released by FPE.

Mitchell, by then a professor of music at UC Irvine, helped to design the 2014 graduate studies program "Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology" (ICIT). She was also commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture and the Royaumont Foundation for the development and French tour of Beyond Black, a collaboration with kora master Ballaké Sissoko and the Black Earth Ensemble. A year later, she was commissioned by the French American Jazz Exchange for the work Moments of Fatherhood, featuring the Black Earth Ensemble and the Parisian chamber group L'Ensemble Laborintus; it premiered at the Sons d'Hiver jazz festival in January of 2015. Later that year, Artifacts (with Reid and Mike Reed) was released by 482, while Moments of Fatherhood appeared from Rogue Art in 2016.

Early the following year, Mitchell released Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds on FPE. An original work, it was commissioned by Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and cut two years earlier at its world premiere at the venue. Its concept, while reflecting the undeniable influence of Butler, was original. Mitchell used various musics including modern free jazz, gospel, rock, and contemporary classical, and engaged several folk styles from across the globe in a metaphorical narrative that used classic dualities to ask the question: "What is progress?" The Black Earth Ensemble for this performance included Baker, Reid, Alex Wing on guitars and oud, percussionist Jovia Armstrong, Tatsu Aoki on bass, shamisen, and taiko, Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi flute and, on three of the final four tracks, Chicago-based spoken word artist Avery R. Young contributed vocals. ~ Thom Jurek

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