Nicole Mitchell’s Sonic Projections

The Secret Escapades of Velvet Anderson
RogueArt ROG-056

By Ken Waxman

Although not as overly programmatic as the recording of Intergalactic Beings her Afro-Futuristic Sci-Fi suite, this CD is another instance of how Nicole Mitchell’s burgeoning compositional chops are keeping pace with her acknowledged command of the flute. With The Secret Escapades of Velvet Anderson Mitchell shines in the triple task of honoring one of her mentors, tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson (1929-2010); doing so with a nine-part linked composition in the super-hero vein; and creating all the necessary textures with only a quartet.

Now California-based, Mitchell established her flute mastery during her two decades in Chicago, during which she was one of the many younger musicians encouraged and offered gigs at Anderson’s Velvet Lounge club. Reimagining the influential reedist as a superhero, symbolically named Velvet Anderson, the titles of Mitchell’s composition are suitably heroic to fit the graphic escapades of a comic book hero, although the episodes are outlined in instrumental inferences without words. Lyrics aren’t needed though since this adventure is elucidated musically by Mitchell’s own version of the Fantastic Four: New Yorkers, drummer Chad Taylor and pianist Craig Taborn plus tenor saxophonist David Boykin, Mitchell’s long-time Chicago colleague.

Framed by an introduction (“Bright City”) and coda (“The Heroic Rescue”) which communicate and confirm the opus’ hard-hitting parameters, equivalent pitches of unalloyed tension are reached and later deflated. Throughout buoyant power is maintained via keyboard surges and percussion energy, with diamond-hard flute bleats and saxophone breaths outlining and toughening the themes. For instance, Mitchell and Boykin use parallel expositions to define themselves as hero and sidekick on “For the Cause” with the darkening scene set with kinetic piano runs. Dramatic keyboard flourishes help build up suspense on the subsequent “Scaling the Underground”, as rugged puffs and glottal abstractions from the horns cut through the TV cop-show-like exposition to offer genuine discursive and deconstructed improvisations. As decisively, Mitchell’s ingenuous flutter tonguing slyly undercuts the heavy, rock-inflected, percussive narrative that characterizes “Running the Rooftops” and which is later expanded with the concluding “The Labyrinth of Capture”. By the end of that track, Taborn ebullient patterning mirrors Mitchell’s lead so that the suite`s nerve-wracking poignancy is replaced by a heraldic fanfare. It’s merely one step further to the conclusive and intro-echoing final track.

Honoring her mentor in a unique fashion, Mitchell has created a sophisticated tone poem that moves in its own fashion and can be appreciated without program notes.

Tracks: Secret: Bright City; Secret Assignment; Discovery of the Jewel; For the Cause ; Scaling the Underground; Anderson's Plan; Running the Rooftops; The Labyrinth of Capture; The Heroic Rescue

Personnel: Secret: Nicole Mitchell: flute Craig Taborn: piano, Wurlitzer David Boykin: tenor saxophone Chad Taylor: drums, acoustic guitar

—For The New York City Jazz Record March 2015