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Nicole Mitchell : Awakening

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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.

Originally Published