Indigo Trio/Michel Edelin

The Ethiopian Princess meets the Tantric Priest
RogueArt ROG-0034

Nicole Mitchell

Awakening

Delmark DE-599

By Ken Waxman

Even after nearly 60 years as a double for woodwind players – and first choice for a select few – the flute can’t shake off its reputation as a secondary jazz axe. But Nicole Mitchell, who recently moved from Chicago to the West Coast, is doing her best to overcome this stigma. Avoiding the transverse tube’s frillier association, she also stays away from atonal experiments. As these CDs demonstrate, impressive improvisations are created even as the flute retains its lyrical characteristics.

Each quartet disc, with a different front-line partner, but with most compositions by Mitchell, is distinct. Recorded in Strasbourg with Paris-based Michel Edelin the other flautist, The Ethiopian Princess meets the Tantric Priest is formal and delicate. Awakening, from Chicago, adds guitarist Jeff Parker, whose affiliations include rock band Tortoise, for a more aggressive session. Bassist Harrison Bankhead, a regular in saxophonist Ernest Dawkins’ bands is on both discs. Hamid Drake, one of jazz’s busiest percussionists also meets The Ethiopian Princess, while solid AACMer Avreeayl Ra is the Awakening percussionist.

By blending Edelin’s flute and alto flute with Mitchell’s flute, alto flute and piccolo, their disc is reminiscent of a Sam Most-Herbie Mann face off. Meanwhile Bankhead’s pulsing coupled with Drake’s inventive slaps and rebounds pace the eight selections, allowing Mitchell and Edelin to extemporize distinct flute sequences in turn. Legato, “Inside the Earth” finds aviary wisps and whistling peeps from the flutists giving way to mellow pitches. “Wind Current” on the other hand balances low-intensity and low-pitched glissandi atop pedal-point bass lines and rim shots. “Call Back”, one of Edelin’s two compositions, has a stealthy, elongated theme framed by a martial beat from Drake. As the flutists solo in turn, one produces pitched chirps and the other evocative lowing. Eventually as glottal slurps, tongue stops and growls are added to the mix, the piece resolves itself capaciously with arpeggios from Bankhead, rat-tat-tats from Drake and mixed tongue pressures from Edelin and Mitchell.

Awakening’s precursor could be a sessions when a polite flautists like Moe Koffman improvised with an orderly guitarist like Ed Bickert. On the other hand when the session’s momentum augments on a track like “Momentum”, Parker’s linear work suggests Herb Ellis, with bluesy asides cozying up to the flautist’s staccato flutter tonguing. Contributing to the mood swings are the guitarist’s chiming chords and the bassist’s popping thumps or measured bow slides. Meanwhile, since Mitchell’s narrative skill also encompasses fortissimo whistles and gritty blowing, varied emotions are on tap throughout, from slow romanticism to moderated funkiness. The suite-like “Journey on a Thread” is probably the finest instance of her articulated and animated story-telling, as an innocent melody alternates with the flutist articulating a more staccato line. Irregularly vibrated breaths and mouth buzzes give the piece a time-stretching pattern, intensified by Parker’s circular comping and Bankhead’s string pulsing.

Flute fanciers may prefer The Ethiopian Princess meets the Tantric Priest, while those seeking pronounced swing should gravitate to Awakening. What’s obvious on both is that nowhere does Mitchell – or Edelin – have to make any allowances for the flute’s supposed deficiencies as an instrument for profound improvisations.

Tracks: Ethiopian: Top Secret; Inside the Earth; Dérives; Wind Current; Call Back; The Ethiopian Princess Meets the Tantric Priest; Ambre Sunset; Return of the Sun

Personnel: Ethiopian: Nicole Mitchell (flute, alto flute and piccolo); Michel Edelin (flute and alto flute); Harrison Bankhead (bass and piano) and Hamid Drake( drums and frame drum)

Track Listing: Awakening: Curly Top; Journey on a Thread; Center of the Earth; Snowflakes; Momentum; More Than I Can Say; There; 8. F.O.C.; Awakening

Personnel: Awakening: Nicole Mitchell (flute); Jeff Parker (guitar); Harrison Bankhead (bass) and Avreeayl Ra (drums and percussion)

—For New York City Jazz Record June 2012