In the past most jazz flute players were a snooze because they weren't really flute players--just saxophonists who could summon a weak rustle from the instrument but never mastered the nuances of timbre and attack. But nowadays the best of them play flute exclusively, like James Newton or Chicago's Nicole Mitchell. With her clear, forceful tone in both high and low registers, Mitchell can hold her own with aggressive horn players like saxophonist David Boykin and trombonists Steve Berry and Tony Hererra, though when she wants to soar above the fray she plays a little piccolo too. Mitchell's new CD with her Black Earth Ensemble, Afrika Rising (Dreamtime), establishes her as a superior composer and leader as well. She sings a revival-meeting rewrite of "Wade in the Water" ("I'm sitting on a gold mine / And the gold mine is my mind"), and Boykin's throaty clarinet and Savoir Faire's violin dig into John Carter's mix of gutbucket brass, bright chamber colors, and wide-open harmonies, "Bluerise." The album's busy percussion is especially effective on "Intergalactic Healing," set in counterpoint with slow, plaintive strings that recall 70s Carla Bley. For her CD release gig at the Velvet, Mitchell will crowd the stage with 10 of the 17 sidefolk heard on the album: Boykin, Hererra, Berry, Faire, trumpeter Corey Wilkes, cellist Tomeka Reid, pianist Jim Baker, bassists Darius Savage and Josh Abrams, and drummer Avreeayl Ra--an impressive array of local talent. Friday, October 25, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.