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 chordings to Derek Bailey-like spiked phrases and electronic eruptions.) And while these four AACM veterans had never played as a quartet before, they sound every bit the long-running working unit.