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Nicole Mitchell gave a keynote address at “Jazz, Race and Politics: A Colloquium” co-presented at the 2012 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival by Coastal Jazz and the Improvisation, Community and Social Practice research initiative. Her talk was given the title “Afrofuturism Now,” but she ranged widely in her discussion of the cultural politics of African-American improvised musics, engaging with the work of Sun Ra and of Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln. She also explored in detail many of her own compositions and performances, and discussed her relationship to community and to heritage. She talks about her recent Xenogenesis Suite, which she composed as an homage to Octavia Butler. She also performed a brief flute solo (at about the 36 minute mark in the recording). The audience for her talk included Ajay Heble, Tomeka Reid, Billy Hart and Billy Harper – Billy Harper can be heard asking questions and engaging in discussion with the audience at the end of the talk, as well. (He and Billy Hart were scheduled to engage in a panel discussion next.) I have edited out the audio examples from Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, and from Sun Ra, but I have retained Nicole Mitchell’s own musical examples. I am the one who can be heard introducing the colloquium (with some references to the work of Stuart Hall and Wayde Compton) and also giving Nicole Mitchell a brief introduction. Copyright for the intellectual and creative material on this recording remains with Nicole Mitchell.
Released in November 2013, the multi-format set of recordings of Taylor Ho Bynum’s innovative composition for improvising sextet, Navigation, both culminates and continues his fascination with the interfaces between the extemporaneous and the written, the scripted and the performative. Separate LP and compact disc versions of the work are paired with different fragments of text from poet Nathaniel Mackey’s experimental epistolary novel Bass Cathedral, a book that Ho Bynum has recently said, for him, is probably the best writing about music he has encountered. Earlier compositions by Bynum, such as his suite Madeleine Dreams, have not only used prose fiction as libretto, but more tellingly have striven to address sonically and structurally the complex and often fraught relationships between the musical and the diegetic, between sound and sense. Navigationtakes up Mackey’s own address to this interface, sounding what Mackey understands as creative discrepancy, an expressive troubling of formal and cultural boundaries. Name-checking both Sun Ra and Louis Armstrong, Mackey has noted what he calls a “play of parallel estrangements” in improvised music and in poetry, arguing that music “is prod and precedent for a recognition that the linguistic realm is also the realm of the orphan,” that is, of the limits of sense, a liminal zone of both orchestration and letting go. Ho Bynum’s recordings pick up not only on Mackey’s thorough enmeshment in jazz history, but also on his intention to pursue the expressive potential of language and of music at their textural boundaries, at moments of troubling contact between divergent worldviews, or between dissimilar social and cultural genetics. Composing using what Mackey calls m’apping – a portmanteau splice of mapping and mishap, pursuing what Mackey calls the “demiurgic rumble” of discrepancy, improvising across the gaps between careful craft and unruly noise – Ho Bynum conjures a hybrid and collaborative music that blends the complex Afrological heritages of jazz performance style (audible in Navigation’s network of gestures to Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington, to name only two key forebears) with graphic scoring techniques derived from Sylvano Bussotti or Wadada Leo Smith, among others. If improvised music, for Mackey, represents – and represents precisely – what defies descriptive capture in language, what eludes ekphrasis, then the music of Taylor Ho Bynum’s sextet aspires to invert that representational effort, to take up the discrepant aesthetic tactics of Mackey’s writing and to assess how the written (as graphē, as graphic score) can approach and test the expressive limits of making music happen. Taylor Ho Bynum’s compositions for improvisers offer exemplary instances of how to negotiate creatively the boundaries between text and sounding, and suggest a means of addressing, too, the graphic work of other composer-improvisers, including the work of Nicole Mitchell, Anthony Braxton and Barry Guy
|Robert Kerr introducing Indigo Trio, with Hamid Drake and Harrison Bankhead|
|Indigo Trio, from the back of the room: Nicole Mitchell, Hamid Drake, Harrison Bankhead|
|KAZE: Satoko Fujii, Natsuki Tamura, Christian Pruvost, Peter Orins|
I spent the day yesterday off and on with Nicole Mitchell‘s remarkable new cd on my player. Engraved in the Wind, released on the French Rogueart label, is a set of compositions and improvisations for solo flute (with a track or two overdubbed, but most cuts using a single live instrument). Nicole Mitchell has worked in a number of musical contexts, from collaborative ensembles and AACM repertory groups to her own Black Earth Ensembles, but here she is in many ways at her most vulnerable — and also, her most moving. This album doesn’t merely showcase her virtuosity, which is thoroughly impressive; she is hands down and unquestionably one of the most accomplished and brilliant flautists in the world, working now in any idiom or sub genre, from classical to jazz and beyond. Mitchell’s huge instrumental technique, whether focused on fundamentals or developing an extended sonic palette, inevitably serves the musical demands of a given moment. The disc intermingles commissions from colleagues (and one piece from the emerging contemporary repertoire for solo flute, Alvin Singleton‘s “Agoru III”) with a series of improvisational explorations of various elements in Mitchell’s instrumental language, a concept akin to Anthony Braxton‘s For Alto, although Mitchell’s rhythmic and harmonic senses are entirely her own; her playing sounds little to nothing like Braxton’s, and she prefers (to my ears, at least) a more folk-based and lyrical melodic tactic. There is a debt here, perhaps, to James Newton‘s Axum, and Newton is one of the composers to offer an original composition, in this instance “Six Wings,” for Mitchell’s recital. But while she often acknowledges her indebtedness to traditions of Afrological music-making — “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future” — her voice, at this point in her career, has become fully her own. (Joe Morris provides excellent liner notes that speak to her technique and to her musical approaches much more eloquently than I can here.) On the album, she explores a wide range of textures and timbres, but my favourite cut so far is “Dadwee,” a folksy (even blues-ish) line co-composed with Aaya Samaa that demonstrates the almost buttery richness and harmonic density of her flute tone. Her music nourishes as it unfolds. The recording, done at UC Irvine, is intimate and full, very present, which helps, of course. But what most impresses me, as I listen, is the warmth and closeness of her music. Nicole Mitchell has created a definitive album of solo flute music, one to which I am sure I will return again and again.