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Nicole Mitchell: Earth Tones

Nicole Mitchell, on flute, with her Black Earth Ensemble

Aside from the late Herbie Mann, Bobbi Humphrey and Hubert Laws, few musicians play the flute exclusively. Most keep it as part of an arsenal where it comes behind a reed or two. Add to that the instrument’s reputation of sounding overly sweet in the wrong hands, and the flute is saddled with an undeserved stereotype.

Nicole Mitchell doesn’t blow like that. “I really don’t like the whole flowery approach,” the Chicago flutist says of her instrument. “That’s not really my thing.” This was apparent last year on Exploding Star Orchestra’s We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey). In the opening minutes, trombone, vibes and guitar create a backdrop that helps Mitchell come across in an especially gritty manner. Her playing on the lower alto flute adds to her already rootsy sound.

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