Nicole Mitchell at Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music 2022 – London Jazz News

Nicole Mitchell

Bed & Phil. Newcastle Jazz and Improvised Music Festival – Days 2 and 3.

Two writers, Peter Slavid and AJ Dehany, jointly covered the innovative NFoJaIM 2022 festival for LJN. Links to their other reports below,

“We do it to disrupt the machine” is a statement of liberating sensibility that exists across the continuum of jazz and improvised music as a force for change. He is one who Nicole Mitchell is not done lightly. It informs her diverse visionary vision as a flautist, singer, composer and multimedia artist. She is strongly associated with the Black Music Ensemble and a seasoned luminary of a wide range of situations from jazz with the great Braxton ensembles to Afro-futurist world music, driven by the politicized energy she brought to her former role as President of the Association for Advancement. creative musicians in Chicago. Quite simply, legend status.

“We do it to disrupt the machine” also exists in the continuum of his work over decades, in which text and spoken utterance are a defining force. It was just a statement she made, enunciated musically, during her exhilarating solo on a typically rainy weekend at the Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. Wesley Stephenson, its organizer since 2017, has truly outdone itself by bringing in this artist who burns with legendary importance. The festival is a feat and a feast of madness encouraged by a community of long-time sponsors and friends, including Jazz North, BBC Radio 3 and the festival’s “spiritual home”, the Lit & Phil Library, which hosted the most weekend events. It’s seriously serious.

Nicole Mitchell in Newcastle. image copyrightKen Drew

A tribute to the festival was part of Nicole Mitchell’s intimate address to the assembled audience of festival regulars, impromptu Northern stage masters and some of the best musicians, including the ubiquitous John Pope (who went four sets this weekend at the peak of his considerable game) and legends Orphy Robinson and pat thomas who have played some of them themselves. The sense of community and collaboration that this festival encourages and exemplifies is a microcosm of how music works around the world, and it’s happening in Newcastle – by which I mean of course… not London. In addition to his solo and duo set with Alexander Hawkins in Newcastle, Mitchell was going on a de facto mini tour of London and Birmingham with Mark Sander (who himself played with Shifa with Pat Thomas and Rachel Musson to close the festival as only Shifa could do).

“So serious!” she joked, perhaps partly to verify herself, but emphasizing the playfulness of her performance, which in her solo set was dominated by her use of a five-dollar phone app called Koala. It’s a surprisingly efficient and versatile sampling and sequencing phone app, well suited to the contemporary electronic music style of ‘chopping’ – it’s been a while now since Aphex Twin and Squarepusher started breaking the back of techno beat, and since then we’ve explored on the one hand the extremes of rhythmic violence exemplified by Venetian Snares and on the other the more collaborative use of electronic chopping and screwing brought about by two deans of the festival 2022 Mariam Rezaeiwhose Saturday set with Black Top seemed to concentrate and distill the energetic tinkering of the greats into a superb technical synthesis, and John the leafcutter of which Sunday regulated with Bex Burch brought a more purely musical sense in a fusion of ancient and modern tendencies.

Some might see an irony in saying “We do this to disrupt the machine” while using a machine to create music, but the Koala software she used on her phone is a responsive and accessible finger-operated tool that is as personal, expressive and individual as any acoustic instrument – potentially more than the flute for example with its damn buttons and that impossible mouthpiece that Nicole Mitchell somehow makes sing in sweeps and swirls as complex as the most complex vocalizations mind-blowing by Norma Winstone.

Nicole Mitchell with Alexander Hawkins. image copyrightKen Drew

His solo flute technique is individual: virtuoso nodding between blown and sung notes. Mitchell’s solo set was originally intended to precede the first constellation of Binker Golding, John Pope, Alexander Hawkins and Paul Hessian, but, due to the intransigence of the British political class, Golding had to choose to sleep rough or return to London early, so the schedule changed and Mitchell made headlines. For my part, I found it difficult to calm down after the successful synergy of this quartet of diverse imaginations of powerful actors in a free improvisation of imposing power.

Consequently, it was difficult to get into a different headspace for the first half of Mitchell’s set, and the set itself looked quite hectic. We want the excitement of knowing it could collapse at any moment, but the assurance that it won’t. I was told that she had in fact lost her samples and had to redo them all in the half hour before the performance – which many said made the set vital and bubbly with nervous energy, but I was happy when the sound calmed down a bit more, especially when the raw elements derived from the electronics turned into layers of high-pitched vocals with a more liberating sense of space, shining the light in a polished with glowing clouds and rain.

As Phil Freeman notes in his chapter on Tomeka Reid and Nicole Mitchell in ugly beauty (review link below), Mitchell has described crucial elements of his musical identity as “density” and “layers moving, sometimes independently of each other” and “treating sound as color and energy” which suits both ensembles, but especially the solo. She says her rhythmic sense is allied to the human heartbeat rather than the metronome, but that would have to be a heart with serious health implications that jumps and skips like a Shakespearean romantic fool.

“We do it because it’s liberating,” is another of the statements she made late on set, and the exploratory sense of it all was hugely exciting. It was unusual to focus so much on the record player rather than the flute, but it was a brilliant continuation of what she has always done. His modernist duet with versatile piano genius Alexander Hawkins the next day has, in some ways, played more to his strengths, and the sense of spontaneous composition and creative energy of two players at this level sets the bar far too high. for comparison, but in some ways the “koala phone” was more remarkable, even if it didn’t reach the incredible superior technical achievements of the duo with Hawkins.

“There’s Hope in the Sun” was his last sung comment towards the end of the duet, almost romantic, and somewhat appropriate for a typically rainy weekend in the Northeast, even in a city where we won’t wear usually just a T-shirt or short skirt for going out to the club every extremely cold weekend. We do it because it’s liberating. If we can’t disrupt the machine, at least we can disrupt the fucking time.

AJ Dehany writes about music, art and all that.


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Day 1 report by Peter Slavid in 2022

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