Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal – “Aquarius”


Nicole Mitchell - "Aquarius"The key to this album is its warmth.  Aquarius, the new release by Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal, is an album of blunt edges, sharp angles, and a haunting presence that doesn’t inspire happy dreams.  And yet, this album is so damn personable as to render all of its adversarial components into friendly points of connectivity.

The most glaring reason for this dichotomy of element and presence comes from the behavior of flute (Mitchell) and vibes (Adasiewicz) toward one another.  Like butterflies at play, they inspire a sense of exhilaration and freedom, watching their intertwining patterns shape pretty melodies out of the randomness of improvisatory trajectories and atypical flight plans.  Take, for instance, album opener “Aqua Blue,” with its springtime cheer, and the similarly inclined “Today, Today,” with its glimmering beauty and slightly darker tones.

Your album personnel: Nicole Mitchell (flute), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Joshua Abrams (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums).

The rhythm section of drummer Rosaly and bassist Abrams are the rhythmic tether to Mitchell’s and Adasiewicz’s melodic acrobatics.  They provide a structure within which to greater appreciate the melodic development, in that same way that the flight of the butterflies is made that much more spectacular when viewed from the perspective of two feet planted on solid earth.  However, that doesn’t preclude the imposition of motion by the rhythm section upon the tenor of the tunes.

For instance, the tempo of “Yearning” takes long strides, focused like a laser beam on the path head, and when it seems like that’s all that left to expect, Rosaly and Abrams pull it back in with a nifty little hook and land the tempo on a resting spot that imbues the song with a satisfying sense of finality, like snapping a gift’s bow in place.  And then there’s the happy little dance of “Sunday Afternoon,” a blues groove, accentuated by vibes, but bass and drums the real stars.  Mitchell solos over the top, with Adasiewicz’s vibes darting between the notes while staying within reach of the rhythm section.  A straight-ahead tune that shines brilliantly in the midst of this album that comes from every other direction but head-on.

On the stranger side of town are tracks like “Aquarius,” with its intense bursts of nervous activity, anchored to some bass arco, then set loose with shimmering vibraphone notes.  And “Diga, Diga” is a haunted house of dissonance.  Sounds are not what they appear to be, and there is a new fright around every corner.  Flute is a shriek, bass is a moan, and vibes a death rattle.

The deft manipulation of time on this recording is also exemplified by the slight but profound differentiations between a track like “Above the Sky,” with its hypnotic repetitions broken by brief melodic glides, and a track like “Adaptability,” with bass bouncing ideas off some conversational drums, an up-tempo piece insinuating a swing, over which flute and vibes flutter and shine.  The insinuation grows even thicker on “Expectation,” with its walking bass line and punctuated riffs on vibes.  And while the tempos may change, and the melodic diversions grow disparate, album cohesiveness is maintained with a shared bond of songs growing increasingly thick, trading hypnotics for intensity.

The album ends with a tribute to Chicago Jazz legend Fred Anderson.  It’s a jaunty tune, celebrating Mr. Anderson’s contribution to the city scene as much as mourning his passing.

Just a wonderful album.  Loosely speaking, this is what people would consider an avant-garde recording, which would typically indicate a certain abundance of dissonance and edginess as to keep the listener at a distance.  Not the case with Aquarius, which despite all appearances, is very easy to embrace, and provides plenty of friendly warmth to go along with its atypical sound.

Released on Delmark Records.

Jazz from the Chicago scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3