Tag Archives: Nicole Mitchell

For Practically Everyone: The Music of FPE Records


In a medium-sized suburb on the outskirts of Chicago is a record label dedicated to doing things differently. FPE Records is the brainchild of Matt Pakulski, and although Oak Park, Illinois is the label’s home, Pakulski says the label is really in debt to the creative curiosities and experimentations across Chicago’s unique music scene.

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Seven Steps to Perfection: A Guide Towards the Afrofuture in Music


Illustration by Max Löffler

In the ’90s, R&B and hip-hop music videos by groups like Blaque, OutKast, and Missy Elliott burst out of the hive with the vibrancy of ritual, referencing everything from atmospheric independent African diaspora films, like Daughters of the Dust to Star Trek. These videos were high fantasy—but with the ubiquitous ‘90s video sheen of exaggerated colorwash and fisheye-lens effects.

Also during the ’90s, the term Afrofuturism was coined to discuss the rising interest in surreal, fantastical, and futuristic Black literature (from the likes of Samuel Delany, Octavia E. Butler, and Charles Saunders), and its connection to other forms of Black art (music and visual art in particular) that married science fiction tropes and ideas with Black radical politics, spirituality, and lived experiences. The idea then was to project idealized forms of Blackness into the future without eschewing any of the aesthetic markings that made Black existence in a post-colonial world unique. Artists imagined urban habitation adorned with updated ritual practice, the ghetto as space station geared out in chrome, and general narratives about space travel to coincide with the ecstasy of the music: the layered, heavy beats and hazy, jazz-inspired productions that were the norm of the time. This gave way to the explorations of Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar, and Janelle Monae.

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The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: August 2018


Two is a lucky number in this month’s column. We’ve got multiple duet recordings, two albums with double trios, another that’s a double-disc, and one musician who appears on two different recommendations. But, y’know, we’ve got music for people who like other numbers, too.

View the Best Jazz on Bandcamp archives.

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Album of the Day: Nicole Mitchell, “Maroon Cloud”

In recent years, flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell has produced a series of densely orchestrated, idea-packed suites, whether celebrating the Afrofuturist science fiction of Octavia Butler on Xenogenesis Suite or imagining a truly egalitarian society on her 2017 breakthrough album Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds. She’s embraced the format again with Maroon Cloud—recorded live in March 2017 at New York’s National Sawdust. But this time she applies a more limited instrumental palette, tackling the eight-movement work with a drumless chamber quartet featuring some of the most forceful voices in improvised music: Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz, vocalist Fay Victor, and cellist Tomeka Reid, who’s one of the flutist’s most trusted collaborators. Continue reading

The Best Jazz Albums of 2017


“Some” is a word we should introduce early on—as in, this is some of the Best Jazz of 2017. As 11 previous Best Jazz On Bandcamp columns have proven, there’s more music that warrants consideration than we have space available. Some of these albums have received previous mention in those columns, but most are brand new, often hitting the Bandcamp shelves after columns had already been submitted. So, in addition to this being a celebration of the Best Jazz on Bandcamp in 2017, it’s also an opportunity to discover even more new music. This has been a great year for new jazz, and this list is more proof of that fact.

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The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: May 2017


Illustration by Clay Hickson

It’s a globetrotting edition of Best of Bandcamp Jazz. This month’s column features stopovers in Iceland, Barcelona, the Twin Cities, Paris, London, Lebanon, New Jersey, the Canary Islands, and many, many more. These are essential albums you’ll want in your collection, no matter where you call home.

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Jazz Flutist Nicole Mitchell’s New Concept Album Asks, “What is Progress?”

Nicole Mitchell

Photo by Lauren-Deutsch.

Nicole Mitchell is one of contemporary jazz’s great talents on the flute—but she doesn’t just deal in riffs. She’s also a conceptualist. Her latest record, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds is influenced by social science, sci-fi, and speculative trends in fiction. Throughout the record’s hour-long running time, Mitchell draws on anthropologist Riane Eisler’s distinction between cooperative societies and hegemonic ones, and asks the question: Could the best elements of each tradition be joined somehow?

It’s a question that reflects some of the political tensions of the present moment. Mitchell’s spoken word lyrics, voiced by poet avery r. young, reference Black Lives Matter as well as post-earthquake conditions in Nepal. For this record, bandleader Mitchell has drawn instrumentalists into her orbit to support this wide-ranging, philosophical form of musical inquiry. She leads an ensemble that includes an electric guitarist, bassist, violinist, and percussionist. For good measure, Mitchell also employs a cellist (who doubles on banjo) and a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble who plays the shakuhachi (a vintage Japanese flute).

This vibrant ensemble sometimes coalesces around elements of noise-rock propulsion, or else progressive funk—often in the same track. No matter the sonic touchstones, the group’s performances on the record create a sweeping sense of drama. Mitchell’s own contributions include the flute, full of lilting, fast-moving lines, positioning her in a lineage that includes past greats like Rahsaan Roland Kirk. And because Mitchell is eager to find a future that can balance technology with the analog, she also steers electronic effects within the ensemble.

We spoke with Mitchell to discover more about Mandorla’s roots in science fiction, her approach to composition, and bandleading.

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