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Nicole Mitchell / Black Earth Ensemble


Black Earth Ensemble

Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble (BEE) is a musical celebration of the African American cultural legacy.  Founded and directed in 1998 by creative flutist/composer Nicole Mitchell, BEE has performed in festivals and art venues throughout Europe, Canada and throughout the U.S., including Guelph Jazz Festival (Canada), Sons d’hiver (Paris), Karava Jazz Festival (Finland), La Labre Nude (Rome) and others.  BEE’s music embraces the ancient past and paints visions of a positive future.  The music is the weaving of swing, blues, avante garde jazz, bebop, African rhythms, Eastern modes and Western classical sounds. The name “Black Earth” was chosen to honor the feminine source that our lives depend on—Mother Earth. The purpose of Black Earth Ensemble is to inspire the human spirit with thought-provoking beauty and to present a positive, healthy and culturally aware expression. As a woman-directed, co-ed, multi-cultural, multi-generational group, BEE touches a range of emotional spaces rarely expressed in a “jazz” setting. Black Earth’s message is intended for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Nicole Mitchell

Nicole Mitchell is a creative flutist, composer, bandleader and educator, noted as “the most important jazz flutist of her generation” (Troy Collins, allaboutjazz). As the founder of Black Earth Ensemble, Black Earth Strings, Ice Crystal and Sonic Projections, Mitchell has been repeatedly awarded by Downbeat Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association as “Top Flutist of the Year” for the last three years.  Mitchell’s music reaches across genres and integrates new ideas with moments in the legacy of jazz, gospel, experimentalism, pop and African percussion through albums such as Black Unstoppable (Delmark, 2007), Awakening (Delmark, 2011), and Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler (Firehouse 12, 2008), which received commissioning support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works.

Mitchell formerly served as the first woman president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and has been a member since 1995.  In recognition of her impact within the Chicago music and arts education communities, she was named “Chicagoan of the Year” in 2006 by the Chicago Tribune. With her ensembles, as a featured flutist and composer, Mitchell has been a highlight at festivals and art venues throughout Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

Ms. Mitchell is a recipient of the prestigious Alpert Award in the Arts (2011) and has been commissioned by Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Ravinia Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Chicago Sinfonietta Orchestra and Maggio Fiorentino Chamber Orchestra (Florence, Italy). In 2009, she created Honoring Grace: Michelle Obama for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. She has been a faculty member at the Vancouver Creative Music Institute, the Sherwood Flute Institute, Banff International Jazz Workshop and the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her work has been featured on National Public Radio, and in magazines including Ebony, Downbeat, JazzIz, Jazz Times, Jazz Wise, and American Legacy.

Nicole Mitchell is currently an assistant professor of music, teaching in “Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology,” a new and expansively-minded graduate program at the University of California, Irvine. Her recent composition, Flight for Freedom for Creative Flute and Orchestra, a Tribute to Harriet Tubman, premiered with the Chicago Composers’ Orchestra in December 2011.  Among the first class of Doris Duke Artists (2012), Mitchell works to raise respect and integrity for the improvised flute, to contribute her innovative voice to the jazz legacy, and to continue the bold and exciting directions that the AACM has charted for decades. With contemporary ensembles of varying instrumentation and size (from solo to orchestra), Mitchell’s mission is to celebrate the power of endless possibility by “creating visionary worlds through music that bridge the familiar and the unknown.” She is endorsed by Powell flutes.

Official website


Nicole Mitchell

  • Frequency, Frequency, Thrill Jockey, 2006
  • Indigo Trio Live in Montreal, Indigo Trio, Greenleaf Music, 2007
  • Renegades, Black Earth Strings, Delmark, 2008
  • Emerald Hills, Nicole Mitchell’s Sonic Projections, Rogue Art, 2010
  • Anaya, Indigo Trio, Rogue Art, 2010
  • Awakening, Delmark, 2011
  • Arc of O, Nicole Mitchell & an_ARCHE New Music Ensemble, Rogue Art, 2012

Black Earth Ensemble

  • Vision Quest, Dreamtime, 2001
  • Afrika Rising, Dreamtime, 2002
  • Hope, Future and Destiny, Dreamtime, 2004
  • Black Unstoppable, Delmark, 2007
  • Xenogenesis Suite, Firehouse 12, 2008
  • 3 Compositions, Roscoe Mitchell and Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, Rogue Art, 2012

Nicole Mitchell is probably best known for her work in jazz, but she recently has explored classical and African music as well as rhythm & blues and soul. She puts it all together impressively, letting the music speak loud and clear of the passion that beats within her. Her approach reflects the philosophy of a singular artist who has a different way of seeing the world.
– Jerry D’Souza, All About Jazz

“One of the most exciting jazz soloists and composers in the world”
– Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

Mitchell’s writing balances inside and outside aesthetics gracefully, vacillating between extremes of freedom and structure with ease. Skillfully weaving circuitous lines of bracing angularity with accessible, buoyant harmonies that recall the glory days of hard bop, Mitchell’s tunes both challenge and entertain.
-Troy Collins, All About Jazz

Avoiding eclectic posturing by virtue of her compositional acumen, Mitchell’s writing eschews stylistic boundaries to embrace a multiplicity of genres, making each one her own.
– Troy Collins, All About Jazz

Mitchell’s achievement lies in her coherent assemblage of diverse elements of musical information to draw novelty from familiarity. But then again Mitchell has shown herself to be more than capable of rising above stylistic clichés while staying rooted in the deepest traditions of black music.
– Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise

With elements of free-jazz, bebop, funk, Afro-Cuban, and classical it’s hard to categorize Mitchell’s music. One thing for certain, however, is the level of camaraderie between musicians, interpreting Mitchell’s challenging, yet soulful compositions.
– John Barron, All About Jazz

Available from Nicole Mitchell / Black Earth Ensemble:

Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

The innovative, boundary-smashing work of Nicole Mitchell, whom Chicago Reader music critic Peter Margasak has hailed as the “greatest living flutist in jazz”, has contributed new life to Afrofuturism in the 21st Century. A voracious reader of science fiction since her youth (Afrofuturist author Octavia E. Butler in particular… read more

Black Earth Ensemble - Intergalactic Beings

Intergalactic Beings

FPE Records is completely thrilled to announce the release on April 15, 2014 of Intergalactic Beings, Nicole Mitchell’s second avant-jazz suite based on the Xenogenesis novels of Octavia Butler. This album is taken from a live recording done April 30, 2010, at the Museum… read more