Flight of the flute fancy

Here to perform at the TA Jazz Festival, Indigo Trio member Nicole Mitchell is a leading musician on the global jazz scene.

Nicole Mitchell (photo credit: Courtesy)
Nicole Mitchell
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nicole Mitchell may not have been born in Chicago, but she has certainly embraced the Windy City’s jazz sensibilities since moving there some 20 years ago. The 43-year-old flutist will bring the energies and artistic dynamics that are unique to Chicago’s improvisational music scene to this part of the world next week (February 16 at 10:30 p.m.) when she performs at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival as a member of the Indigo Trio, along with bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Hamid Drake.
Mitchell is one of the leading flute players on today’s global jazz scene and has put out a large number of critically acclaimed albums over the last decade, recording and performing with a wide range of bands and ensembles. “Working with different musicians and different bands allows me to express myself in all sorts of ways and also to feed off different musicians,” says Mitchell.
She has certainly been feeding off Bankhead and Drake to great effect for a while and says she prefers longterm musical relationships. “Indigo Trio has been together since 2005, but I have known Hamid and Harrison for many years. Hamid was my mentor when I came to Chicago and we were all part of the Fred Anderson scene.”
Saxophonist Anderson, who died last year at the age of 81, was the owner of the important Velvet Lounge jazz club and was one of the pillars of the free jazz scene in Chicago and the US.
”Fred was a great mentor to all of us,” says Mitchell. “We hope to continue his legacy.”
The trio certainly projects a sense of hand-in-glove ease that can only be earned through shared mileage.
Considering Drake and Bankhead have known each other since their teen years, and Mitchell has been collaborating with Drake for more than 15 years, that is hardly surprising. That said, there does not appear to be much chance of the three slipping into armchair mode. “I always want to be challenged and not to be in my comfort zone,” says the flutist, adding that she feels there is a spiritual side to her work, too.
“Improvisation is sacred. You have to connect with the source of creation and creativity. You get into a space of meditation. It’s a celebration of life through sound.”
Mitchell’s performances with all her various ensembles generally entail an evolving musical and energetic experience. “I like traveling, taking the audience for a ride,” says the flutist. “We also go for a ride, we are never sure where we’re going.”

While that may sound a bit risky, Mitchell says it is an integral element of her art and a means of communicating her ideas, while forsaking tried and proven working methods. “You don’t get this idea of perfection.”
Besides filling frequent performing and recording slots, Mitchell has also helped to support the efforts of the music community in her adopted hometown. This month she steps down from her role as co-president of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which is about to celebrate its 45th anniversary. Over the last four and a half decades, the AACM has produced and supported some of the most innovative artists on the global improvisational music scene, such as trumpeter Lester Bowie, Fred Anderson and trombonist George Lewis.
The envelope-pushing efforts of AACM members produce trademark projects that are unique to Chicago.
“The black art movement in Chicago has always been very strong,” Mitchell explains. “The AACM supports the idea of exploration and innovation, with each composer going into his own sound and journey, taking them beyond boundaries into new concepts. Fred Anderson allowed people of my generation and younger to spread their wings and progress, to experiment, to try new things and to listen to each other, and that helps the whole community to expand.”
Those efforts have yielded uniquely in-your-face Chicago fruits. “We enjoy the sound of the streets. We don’t want our music to be perfectly designed. We want to deal more with the grit, the history. In my own music I don’t want just to hit the right notes. I want to take risks. Chicago is definitely about that.”
Prepare to be taken for a freeflowing magical mystery tour courtesy of Mitchell, Bankhead and Drake this Wednesday.
For more information about the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival: www.cinema.co.il and (03) 606-0800