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Episode 23 of the Burning Ambulance podcast features an interview with flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell. Mitchell is originally from Syracuse, New York, but she grew up in California and eventually went to college in the Midwest, where she became an important figure on the Chicago jazz scene. In fact, she eventually became the first female president of the AACM there. Her primary group is called the Black Earth Ensemble, which has a fluctuating membership but Tomeka Reid is one of the core members—Tomeka was featured on episode 7 of this podcast, back in January, and spoke about working with Nicole and how important it was to her development as an artist, so we’re getting the other side of the story in this episode.
In addition to the Black Earth Ensemble, Mitchell has led a lot of one-off groups, and been a part of other people’s projects – she’s in some of Anthony Braxton’s large ensembles, she’s been part of several of Rob Mazurek’s groups including the Exploding Star Orchestra and its offshoot projects, and she’s in the Indigo Trio with Harrison Bankhead and Hamid Drake. But she’s really made a tremendous impact as a leader, creating music that covers a broad spectrum from jazz to modern composition to theatrical pieces and multimedia presentations, collaborating with and paying tribute to writers—as you’ll hear in this conversation, texts are hugely important to her, even when the music itself is instrumental. Last year, her album Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds got a tremendous amount of critical acclaim—it combines violin, cello, guitar and percussion with traditional Japanese instruments to create a sound that’s both ancient and modern at once, and really is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.
We don’t agree about everything, and you’ll hear some interesting back-and-forth in this conversation about a variety of issues, from the audience for hardcore improvised music to how young artists should navigate the industry. I really enjoyed speaking with her, and I hope you’ll enjoy this episode.