[10 August 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
As a collaborator, Nicole Mitchell excels. One listen to the Frequency album with Edward Wilkerson Jr., Avreeayl Ra, and Harrison Bankhead, or any of the Exploding Star Orchestra releases with Rob Mazurek shows this Chicago flautist and composer in her best light. And you don’t serve as the president of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) without having your feelers picking up on current jazz trends. As bandleader, she comes across less assured. The thin material may be to blame since Mitchell sounds like she was born to play the flute. And with Ra and Bankhead remaining in tow and the underutilized Jeff Parker standing in for guitar, they certainly hold up their end of things. The album lacks a center and each piece lacks a core, causing one to wonder if Mitchell’s compositional skills inhabit some terrain more obscure.