By John Corbett | Published July 2017
For this new incarnation of her Black Earth Ensemble, flutist Nicole Mitchell composed a more-or-less continuous suite as an allegorical work of speculative fiction, based on an integrative Afrofuturist ideal world in which the apparently incompatible concepts of utopia and dystopia no longer are held in opposition. Mitchell imbues the music with a full narrative, including characters and an intergalactic setting, but these elements guide the sounds rather than dramatize it operatically. Even when Avery R. Young sings, the lyrics are evocative, political and symbolic—not plot-driven.
The music directly integrates seeming oppositions, seamlessly pulling together improvised and composed passages, Mitchell’s writing alternating between subtle architectural instructions and direct thematic statements. As the program unfolds, the diffuse quality of early tracks gives way to more ostinati, even funky sections like “Listening Embrace,” with Tomeka Reid’s wicked cello line. The instrumentation itself speaks of opposites united. Flute meets shakuhachi. Electric guitar meets shamisen. Drum kit meets taiko. On “Dance Of Many Hands,” the latter meeting of percussionists recalls late-’50s Sun Ra, when he was experimenting with multiple drummers. Mitchell’s writing certainly nods to Ra here, especially his twinned flute works, but Mitchell’s sphere also includes writers like Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, and the work feels much more exploratory, creative and transcultural than jazz-derived.
Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds: Egoes War; Sub-Mission; The Chalice; Dance Of Many Hands; Listening Embrace; Forestwall Timewalk; Staircase Struggle; Shiny Divider; Mandorla Island; TimeWrap. (74:19)
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell, flute, electronics; Avery R. Young, vocals; Kojiro Umezaki, shakuhachi; Renée Baker, violin; Tomeka Reid, cello, banjo; Alex Wing, electric guitar, oud; Tatsu Aoki, bass, shamisen, taiko; Jovia Armstrong, drums, percussion.