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Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystals: Aquarius

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“Ice crystals” is a good visual metaphor for the sound Nicole Mitchell’s flute and Jason Adasiewicz’s vibes make together. The latter, especially, evokes ice (or glass, thus “crystal”) with a crisp, nimble attack that’s mindful of his instrument’s hard surface. Aquarius is the more gorgeous and exciting for it, though that same combination can become tedious.

There is nothing else monotonous about this music, though. The compositions are quite dynamic; the most memorable, the slinky “Yearning,” has three discrete melodies and shifting meters in its theme, plus more in the improvisation section. In sequence, they’re even more protean, so that “Yearning” follows the gentle swing and faintly bossa-nova figures of “Today, Today” and precedes the stark, freeform title track.

The players don’t sit still, either. Drummer Frank Rosaly can convey subtlety and strength at the same time, playing fearsome cross rhythms on his cymbals (“Diga, Diga”) but articulating them softly enough to mask the complexity-then going completely off-beat, so the drums sound like they’re tumbling down a hill (“Adaptability”). Bassist Joshua Abrams has a steady hand but mixes up his approach from tune to tune: a menacing vamp on an unusual progression on “Aqua Blue”; sensitive, almost imperceptible arco on “Above the Sky.”

Mitchell chases melody, be it in the loose framework of “Diga, Diga” (whose only structure is in the onomatopoeia of the title) or the tight soul music of “Sunday Afternoon.” Adasiewicz divides his time between that same chase and accompanying Mitchell. But both exhaust their approaches: Mitchell spends much time demonstrating her flute tone at its brightest, with high pitches and enthusiastic swoops, while Adasiewicz takes the opposite approach, sounding dark and dim with his low, limited notes. Even so, the execution is masterful.

Originally Published