NICOLE MITCHELL BLACK EARTH ENSEMBLE

Hope, Future and Destiny
Dreamtime Dream 007

SAVOIR FAIRE
Running Out Of Time
Delmark DE 562

Newer voices from Chicago’s ever-evolving Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), flutist/vocalist Nicole Mitchell and violinist Savoir Faire are starting to make names for themselves in the Windy City and elsewhere.

Fourth generation of players who have adopted the progressive concepts of the now 40-year-old AACM, Mitchell and Faire – real name Samuel Williams – have modified certain distinct aspects of the AACM. Neither appears to be much interested in out-and-out sound experiments which characterized the work of early AACMers like Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. Instead Nicole Mitchell’s 14-piece ensemble adapts wholeheartedly the ritualistic, Africanized performance ethos that is another AACM staple; six of the tunes include vocals or recitations. Meanwhile, not unlike many younger generation AACMers, Faire and his quintet seem unswerving in a commitment to swing and rhythm. Only one of his compositions is even vaguely atonal and four include modified programming by the single-named Anti.

Mitchell, not surprisingly, has had longer to articulate her vision. A collaborator with more established players such as reedist Edward Wilkerson and drummer Hamid Drake, HOPE, FUTURE AND DESTINY is her third CD with the Black Earth Ensemble (BEE). Meanwhile RUNNING OUT OF TIME is the solo debut for the classically trained Faire, who is also a member of the BEE.

Faire’s mellow rhythmic swing may remind some of fiddler Stuff Smith, but he’s actually closer to the lesser-known Eddie South (1906–1962), a Chicago-based violinist who was classically trained as well. This CD rings with earnest improvisations that are modern enough, but wouldn’t have frightened patrons attending South’s gigs at Chi-Town’s classier jazz joints in the 1940s and 1950s.

Pianist Ben Paterson is as melodic and understated as Wynton Kelley – when he doesn’t lapse into Ramsey Lewisish voicings, though. Corey Radford’s drumming rarely strays from the backbeat. Bassists Kurt Schweiz and Kyle Hernandez both provide solid pulses, and guitarist Bill Mackay could be Tiny Grimes in his rhythmic functions and any number of progressive boppers when he solos.

His best work comes on “Pendulum”, where degrees of reverb and swirling, Arabic-sounding cross-picking give the impression of extra guitar tones. That is until he breaks free mid-way through for a jagged solo. This action brings out similar deep-pitched licks from Schweiz, which follow lush fills from Faire’s fiddle. The violinist’s full frontal classical showcase is the almost baroque sounding “Aspen’s Woes”, where an unaccompanied solo is characterized by plenty of dramatic vibrato and line-switching arpeggios so that it sounds elegiac.

Other tunes have Mackay suggesting churning Barney Kessel-like rhythmic lines or Jimmy Raney-associated counterpoint. Hernandez’ ostinato does for “Room for More” what the other bassist’s licks do for other pieces, yet sliding into a faster tempo as he does that seems to present no letdown in the rhythm.

All and all, the band’s most impressive showpiece is “Suzal”. One of the few tunes that actually moves past standard jazz licks, it features extended portamento sweeps from Faire, humming guitar flanging from Mackay and an organ-like loop from Anti. As the violinist double stops squeaky trills, the guitarist distorts his output with rock-like interface, playing flashy Al DiMeola to Faire’s jabbing Jean-Luc Ponty. Working to a climax of shifting tone rows from Mackay and squeezed upper partials from Faire, behind this, wavering electric keyboard suggestions provide the body.

Bravura in his playing and composing – he wrote all 10 tracks here – Faire still seems inhibited when it comes to moving away from standard forms. Perhaps he’ll screw up his courage next time out.

Someone who has no problem articulating her message on the other hand, is Mitchell, who on HOPE, FUTURE AND DESTINY finds perfect sideman slots for Faire in sections of the 13 tunes she wrote for this CD. Not that the disc is perfect either. There are points, especially on the tunes with vocals, when trying to articulate a positive future while itemizing the ceremonial traditions of the past turns some tunes into near parodies of 1960s’ hippyism. At one point the phrase “Age of Aquarius” is heard.

Luckily, Mitchell’s grasp of jazz traditions and hard-headed feminism mostly overcomes these naïve sentiments. Taken as a whole the music on the CD is both more primitive and more futuristic than what’s offered on RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

For example, a tune like “The Healing Ritual” is propelled by gospellish female vocal harmony with onomatopoeia-like suggestions of rain showers and running water. Conversely, “Curbside Fantasee” (sic) boasts a harder, dissonant interface with horn interjections, walking bass from Josh Abrams, clunky rhythm guitar licks from Tim “Cream” Jones, and a hollow-sounding backbeat reminiscent of both R&B and West Africa. Trumpeter Corey Wilkes, now part of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, contributes some spectacular triplets and young trombonist Tony Herrera unleashes a plunger exposition. As the beat gets funkier, Mitchell coarsens her ebullient flute tone, making it harsher and more fluid, which allows it to sail on top of the horn vamps.

Contrapuntal kora and balophone-like textures arise from the guitarist and percussionist Art “Turk” Burton in other spots. Elsewhere, glissandi from Faire and cellist Tomeka Reid blend with legato bass clarinet from David Boykin and the leader’s flute for a sonata-like creation. At another juncture, hocketing paradiddles from drummer Arveeayl Ra plus Brian Nichols’ ringing glockenspiel timbres push Reed and Faire into some dual string friction, with that subsequent sul ponticello intersection making common cause with shaking percussion from Edie Armstrong and bell resonation from Baron.

It’s also probably Baron who creates an imitation tap dance behind the poly-harmonic children’s song “For Daughters of Young Love” sung by a female vocal chorus contrapuntally intersecting each others’ voices as they sing.

Most memorable of all are the interconnected “Skating” and “Wanna Make You Smile”, which bring forward a plethora of musical inflections. Starting off like a modernized, riffing Basie band, helped along by Nichols’ piano lines, guttural sliding from Herrera and appropriate Eddie South-like swing from Faire, the riffing theme reappears at intervals around Mitchell’s Frank Wess-like solo and some double-stopped resonance form Abrams. Harmonically sophisticated, “Skating” still has room for bluesy B.B. King-style guitar licks and some straightforward bounces, ruffs and rolls from Ra, whose experience encompasses stints with Professor Longhair, crooner Jerry Butler and Sun Ra. The subsequent piece shifts the percussionists to a New Orleans-Jamaican style beat with Mitchell playing the melodica in such a way that it could be a Zydeco accordion, and ends with a resonating jazz feel from the drummers and horn section.

Another standout from the versatile Mitchell, HOPE, FUTURE AND DESTINY confirms her versatile talents. Hopefully the best parts of RUNNING OUT OF TIME means that fellow AACMer Faire will produce a sophomore session equal to his talents.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Running: 1. Running Out Of Time 2. One Inch Anegls# 3. Room For More* 4. Maritha 5. Pendulum* 6. Suzal# 7. Interlude# 8. Timetable# 9. Sommer’s Ashes 10. Aspen’s Woes

Personnel: Running: Savoir Faire (violin); Bill Mackay (guitar); Ben Paterson (piano); Kurt Schweiz or Kyle Hernandez* (bass); Corey Radford (drums); Anti (programming)#

Track Listing: 1. Wondrous Birth (intro) 2. Wondrous Birth* 3. Curbside Fantasee*#^ 4. For Daughters of Young Love* 5. Journey for 3 Blue Stones (w/text) 6. Message form the Mothergoddess% 7. In the Garden 8. Skating 9. Wanna Make You Smile 10. Future Meditation 11. The Healing Ritual*#^ 12. Time for a Change* 13. Journey for 3 Blue Stones

Personnel: Corey Wilkes (trumpet); Tony Herrera (trombone and shells); Nicole Mitchell (flute, piccolo, flutaphone, alto flute, poetry, vocals* auto-harp, composition); David Boykin (soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet); Savoir Faire (violin); Brian Nichols (piano and glockenspiel); Tim “Cream” Jones (guitar); Tomeka Reid (cello); Josh Abrams (bass); Arveeayl Ra (drums and gongs); Art “Turk” Burton (percussion); Glenda Zahra Baker (vocals# and rainstick); Edie Armstrong (shekere, rainstick and vocals^); Aquilla Sadalla (vocals)%