Chicago's flutist Nicole Mitchell started out in the second half of the 1990s collaborating with Hamid Drake and saxophonist David Boykin.
She formed the Black Earth Ensemble that debuted with
Vision Quest (july 2000), mostly recorded live,
Savoir Faire on violin and viola,
Edith Yokley on violin,
Darius Savage on bass,
Hamid Drake and Arveeayl Ra on percussion.
She also joined Frequency with saxophonist Edward Wilkerson, bassist Harrison Bankhead and percussionist Avreeayl Ra, which debuted with Frequency (Thrill Jockey, 2006).
Afrika Rising (june 2002) featured a much bigger band:
David Boykin on saxophone and clarinet;
Tony Herrera and Steve Berry on trombone;
Savoir Faire and Edith Yokley on violin;
Tomeka Reid on cello;
Miles Tate III, Jim Baker and Wanda Bishop on piano; Darius Savage and Josh Abrams on bass;
Hamid Drake, Isaiah Spencer and Arveeayl Ra on drums;
Jovia Armstrong and Coco Elysses on percussion.
It contains the eleven-minute
Bluerise and the 22-minute three-movement
Black Earth Ensemble's third album, Hope Future And Destiny (september 2004), featured Boykin, Herrera, Faire, Reid, Abrams, Arveeayl Ra, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Brian Nichols on piano and glockenspiel, Tim Jones on guitar, some percussionists and Aquila Sadalla on vocals.
Black Earth Ensemble's fourth album, Black Unstoppable (may 2007), featured Boykin on tenor saxophone, David Young on trumpet, Jeff Parker on guitar, Reid on cello, Abrams on bass, Marcus Evans on drums and Ugochi Nwaogwugwu on vocals.
Xenogenesis Suite (june 2007), ostensibly a tribute to Afrofuturist science-fiction writer Octavia Butler, was recorded with vocalist
Mankwe Ndosi, Boykin, Young, Reid, pianist Justin Dillard, Abrams, Evans and Ra.
Intergalactic Beings (april 2010), inspired by Butlers "Dawn and Adulthood Rites", was recorded live with the same line-up and the addition of Renee Baker on violin and Jeff Parker on electric guitar.
Meanwhile she also played in the Indigo Trio, documented on Live in Montreal (june 2005) and Anaya (june 2008),
played in the Black Earth Strings (originally formed in 1997) with violin/viola player Renee Baker, cellist Tomeka Reid and bassist Joshua Abrams, finally documented on Renegades (Delmark, 2008),
and formed the Sonic Projections that recorded Emerald Hills (may 2010).
The live Arc of O (december 2010), that includes a 15-minute version of Afrika Rising, documents a collaboration with David Boykin, violinist Renee Baker, reed player Mwata Bowden and the 12-unit An_Arche New Music Ensemble.
Awakening (march 2011) was Nicole Mitchell's first solo album followed by Engraved In The Wind (october 2012).
The Black Earth Ensemble returned with Moments Of Fatherhood (february 2015), featuring Boykin, Baker, pianist Aruan Ortiz, bassist Benjamin Duboc, drummer Cesar Carcopino, and three members of the Ensemble Laborintus (harpist Hehene Breschand, cellist Anais Moreau, clarinetist Sylvain Kassap).
She was also in the Artifacts trio with cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed, documented on Artifacts (482 Music, 2015) and And Then There's This (Astral Spirits, 2021).
The Black Earth Ensemble of more exotic Mandorla Awakening II - Emerging Worlds (may 2015), recorded live during the premiere, consisted of Mitchell (also on electronics),
vocalist Avery Young
Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi,
Alex Wing on electric guitar and oud
Tatsu Aoki on bass, shamisen and taiko,
Jovia Armstrong on percussion.
The Black Earth Ensemble was reduced to a drum-less quartet (Mitchell, Reid, Ortiz and vocalist Fay Victor) on Maroon Cloud (march 2017), also recorded live.
Nicole Mitchell's first solo album Duo With Deer Isle (july 2005) was only released 18 years later.