Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble

Black Unstoppable
(Delmark Records)

It's a bloody shame that many folks outside of Chicago have never heard of Down Beat Magazine award-winning flautist Nicole Mitchell. Black Unstoppable, the first Delmark record by a woman in the label's 54-year history, should help her achieve some much-deserved mainstream cred. Much like Bobbi Humphrey, who, in the '70s, was the first female to lead her own recording session for Blue Note, Mitchell is a master at fusing many different styles (Chicago blues, world, soul, neo-classical, straight-ahead, spontaneous playing) that result in distinctly original music. "The Creator Has Other Plans For Me" is a nice ode to Pharoah Sanders' 1969 spiritual epic, while the title track showcases the free-noise stylings of Jeff Parker's so-recognizable electric guitar licks, which is a trip since we're used to hearing the Black Earth Ensemble unplugged. Vocal tunes like "Love Has No Boundaries" and the Afrobeat-heavy "Life Wants You to Focus" features empowered Nigerian female singer Ugochi Nwaogwugwu. The ensemble includes other giants of the Chicago improvisational community, like sax cat David Boykin and bassist Josh Abrams, who was an original member of The Roots. Choice tunes are also available on a DVD showcasing the group performing live at the famed Velvet Lounge.
 
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