Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


May 22, 2017
Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds - Nicole Mitchell
Over her career, Nicole Mitchell has participated in many different ensembles, in some of which she is the leader. Of these, her Black Earth Ensemble has rendered musical interpretations of science fiction novels by Octavia Butler: Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute To Octavia Butler (Firehouse 12 Records, 2008) and Intergalactic Beings (FPE (For Practically Everyone) Records, 2014). Another ensemble, the quartet, Sonic Projections, has also rendered a musical interpretation of an action/adventure story of Mitchell's own creation, The Secret Escapades Of Velvet Anderson (Rogue Art, 2014), which tells the story of a superhero based loosely on the saxophonist, Fred Anderson (March 22, 1929 - June 24, 2010) , who ran the Velvet Lounge in Chicago. In Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE Records, 2017), the Black Earth Ensemble combines these two elements, creating an interpretation of a science fiction epic originating with Mitchell.

Of the Mandorla storyline, Mitchell writes, "In 2099, in the midst of the inevitable decay of World Union society, a vibrant, diverse, and technologically adept culture emerges on an obscure island in the Atlantic. Mandorla is a richly fertile land of special earth power and crystal waters that has remained hidden from the World Union government due to the vibrational work of its inhabitants."

Of the Mandorla theme, Mitchell writes, "The "chalice and blade" is how anthropologist Reine Eisler makes sense of the struggle between two ways of life that seem to have been going on for thousands of years. Eisler argues that for thousand of years, cooperative (partnership-based) societies who are insular, caring, creative and non-violent (represented by the feminine chalice), have competed with hierarchal societies who have been aggressive and expansive through dominance hegemony and fear, (represented by the masculine blade or sword). With Mandorla Awakening, I played with these ideas, but I was also impacted by today's incoherent violence focused on Black youth, made clear by the Black Lives Matter movement's efforts to end gun violence and anti-Black racism."

In Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, the Black Earth ensemble includes avery r young (vocals), Kojiro Umezaki (shakuhachi), Nicole Mitchell (flutes, electronics), Renée Baker (violin), Tomeka Reid (cello, banjo), Alex Wing (electric guitar, oud, theremin), Tatsu Aoki (bass, shamisen, taiko) and Jovia Armstrong (percussion). Over the course of seventy-four minutes, this ensemble presents a kind of music that has connections to jazz, rock and world music but doesn't rest comfortably within any single genre.

It is impossible knowing of Nicole Mitchell's tenure as the first female president of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), not to think of this music as an outgrowth from the fertile soil laid down by an older generation of members of the AACM. In particular, one thinks of Anthony Braxton, who in his Tri-Axium Writings (Synthesis Music, 1985) sought to articulate the three-fold basis of his creative vision. The three pillars include the vibrational dynamics of world music, a philosophy of creativity and the reality of the continuing need for social justice. The obvious resonance between Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds and Braxton's conception of music, philosophy and social justice is fairly striking. That such music continues to be made in they year 2017, more than fifty years after the establishment of the AACM, demonstrates the profound impact of the AACM and its importance as a core element of the evolution of non-idiomatic improvisational arts in the second half of the twentieth-century (and beyond). Its influence continues to be felt, despite the music being located clearly in the cultural margins of American society.

Aside from the two Octavia Butler interpretations and The Secret Escapades Of Velvet Anderson mentioned above, listeners interested in the music of Nicole Mitchell are especially encouraged to check out two other records. First, Artifacts (482 Music, 2015) by the trio of Nicole Mitchell (flute), Tomeka Reid (cello) and Mike Reed (drums) celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the AACM with interpretations of pieces from such luminaries as Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Fred Anderson, Leroy Jenkins, Amina Claudine Myers, Steve McCall and Muhal Richard Abrams. Second, Flowing Stream (Leo Records, 2014) by the trio of Joëlle Léandre (bass), Thomas Buckner (voice) and Nicole Mitchell (flute) is other-worldly and was our favorite record released in the year 2014 here at the Poison Pie Publishing House.