Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble – Liberation Narratives featuring Poet Haki Madhubuti
Honoring a legendary Chicago poet, activist and institution builder
Haki Madhubuti has left his mark on Chicago in any number of ways: As an author, poet and lecturer; as founder of the Third World Press, the largest independent black-owned press in the United States; and as a community leader and activist. For acclaimed flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell, who will honor him in this momentous meeting of artistic forces, his explorations in poetry and stories of what it means to be a Chicagoan have much in common with the late Studs Terkel's efforts in the same vein.
"They're both very colorful in the way they describe Chicago life and Chicago history," said Mitchell, who worked for 13 years at Third World Press. For the tribute, she has written a series of pieces based on selected writings of his. The music will be performed by her Black Earth Ensemble, including saxophonist David Boykin, trumpeter David Young, violinist Renee Baker, cellist Tomeka Reid, saxophonist and electronics artist Jayve Montgomery, bassist Joshua Abrams, percussionist Jovia Armstrong and vocalist Mankwe Ndosi. "It's a special opportunity for the BEE to connect with Haki's work."
The band, has long been committed to exposing and honoring aspects of African American culture. For Mitchell, who now lives in Los Angeles, where she is Professor of Music at the University of California, Irvine, this will be her first adaptation of poetry, though not her first brush with the written word. Her Xenogenesis Suite, based on the works of science fiction writer Octavia Butler, was released in 2008. A sequel, Xenogenesis II: Intergalactic Beings, was recently released.
Mitchell is in rarified company as an artist. Past president of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (the first woman to hold that title), she was among the first artists to be supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Winner of flutist of the year recognition for four years running from the Down Beat Critics Poll and Jazz Journalists Association, she has single-handedly raised the stature of her instrument in jazz. An expansive innovator, she performs with large bands like BEE and small groups like the Indigo Trio and Ice Crystals quartet, which recorded her highly praised Aquarius.
Mitchell may spend less time in Chicago these days, but her homecomings confirm that geographical distance doesn't make her any less our own – or any more perfect a choice to pay tribute to her former boss.