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Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - Intergalactic Beings (2014)

6-08-2014, 22:24
Music | Jazz | FLAC / APE

Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - Intergalactic Beings (2014)

Artist: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble
Title Of Album: Intergalactic Beings
Year Of Release: April 15, 2014
Label: FPE Records
Genre: Jazz, Avant-Garde, Experimental
Quality: MP3 | FLAC (tracks.+cue.+log)
Bitrate: 320 kbps | lossless
Total Time: 60:21 Min
Total Size: ~140 Mb |~348 Mb
WebSite: amazon


1. Phases of Subduction
2. Cycle of Metamorphosis
3. The Ooli Moves
4. Dripping Matter
5. Negotiating Identity
6. Web of Hope
7. Fields of Possibility
8. Resisting Entanglement
9. The Inevitable

It’s not hard to understand how Chicago became a locus of Afrofuturist music. Think of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, using the city as base camp in the 1920s while they turned New Orleans jazz into a thrilling new improvised language that tore into the future like a racing automobile. Or the Great Migration of the 30s and 40s – rural African-Americans escaping the drudgery and danger of the South, plugging in an electric guitar on Maxwell Street and experiencing the psychic shock of technology as a gateway to new freedom. Herman Blount left Alabama in the late 40s and settled in Chicago, and by the mid-50s he’d formulated a philosophy with his Arkestra that pushed beyond earthly concerns, encoding a transcendent urge in a blend of ancient Egyptian mythology and space age prophecy. The message to fellow African-Americans was clear: we have been mighty before, let’s throw off these shackles and be mighty again in other worlds. By the late 60s, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago were proselytising “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future”, tracing a line from animistic drum ceremonies through bop, free jazz and beyond; in the 21st century, Hieroglyphic Being projects the future shock of 80s/90s Chicago house through the same mythological lens. For decades, Chicago’s music has shimmered like a flying saucer in a Midwest heat haze.

Flautist Nicole Mitchell embodies this complex cultural brew. She’s a selfconfessed sci-fi baby who supposedly was nearly named Nichelle, after Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lieutenant Uhuru in Star Trek; she’s been a member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians since the mid-1990s, and was its first woman president; more recently, she’s been a prominent member of fellow Chicagoan and sci-fi fanatic Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, contributing to cosmically aligned, post-Ra albums such as 2007’s We Are All From Somewhere Else and 2010’s Stars Have Shapes. But it’s with her own Black Earth Ensemble that she began most explicitly to join the dots in the Afrofuturist constellation, with the release in 2008 of Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute To Octavia Butler. Butler used speculative fiction as a vehicle for commenting on the contemporary black experience, and her Xenogenesis trilogy, published between 1987–89 (and as the collection Lilith’s Brood in 2000), tells the story of the dwindling human survivors of a nuclear war who are rescued – or captured – by the Oankali, a nomadic extraterrestrial species who roam the universe seeking other beings to interbreed with. These genetic transactions are facilitated by the Oankali’s third gender, the Ooloi – tentacled creatures who are repulsive to humans but who have psychic properties that make them overwhelmingly seductive. The story is told through the experiences of Lilith Iyapo, a human woman offered a tortuous bargain by the Oankali: accept enslavement and enforced miscegenation or have no children at all. Butler’s message is obvious: Lilith’s predicament mirrors the torments suffered by 18th century women pressed into slavery and forced to bear their masters’ children.

Of course, Afrofuturist authors such as Butler and Samuel R Delany aren’t the only US postwar writers to have used the freedom of speculative fiction to question sociocultural identities. Marge Piercy’s feminist classic Woman On The Edge Of Time (1976) imagines a utopian future society that has evolved beyond phallocentric patriarchy; Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar (1968) envisages a post-apocalyptic community based on 1960s countercultural experiments in communal living, in which nature and technology are perfectly balanced. But the Afrofuturist agenda remains urgent. Butler’s trilogy shows how, after much struggle, Lilith’s offspring overcome their traumatic beginnings to achieve self-determination and superhuman potential. In Xenogenesis Suite, Mitchell restricted herself to sketching an overview of Dawn, the first novel in the Xenogenesis trilogy. With her second investigation of Butler’s themes, Intergalactic Beings, she focuses in even more obsessive detail on a specific moment of horror from that book, with the ten piece Black Earth Ensemble charting the process of Lilith’s unwilling ‘subduction’ – a portmanteau coined by Mitchell evoking abduction, seduction, submission and tentacular suction.

The hour long suite, recorded live in Chicago in 2010, opens with “Phases Of Subduction” – David Boykin’s slithering bass clarinet provokes shrieks of fear and dread from Joshua Abrams’s roughly bowed double bass while Avreeayl Ra and Marcus Evans unleash violent bursts of staccato percussion. Mankwe Ndosi’s wordless vocals dart from terrified chattering and nauseous moans to acquiescent sighs and unhinged delirium. With Lilith’s defences broken down, the oleaginous villains make their play in “The Ooli Moves” – inexorably mechanistic rolling percussion and horror film cello menace lay the foundation for Reneé Baker’s queasy violin solo, and a heavily modulated electric guitar statement from Jeff Parker, muttering in an incomprehensible alien dialect. A lumbering riff with echoes of Sun Ra’s 1967 recording of “Rocket Number Nine” conjures absurd horror, like a B movie monster in a rubber suit.

From there, the performance descends into a prolonged study of intense psychological struggle – Ndosi’s vocals map Lilith’s internal traumas with giggles, ululations, retching gasps and eerie little girl lost sing-song, while raw tenor sax cries and violently lurching trumpet stabs describe a mind thrashing in agony. It’s only in the final piece, “The Inevitable”, that Mitchell’s flute breaks through – sweetly soaring as Lilith succumbs to her altered state. Her flute is all the more affecting because it’s one of the few instances of expressive playing in the whole piece. Throughout, individual voices rise to the surface in only brief, fleeting bursts; for the most part – and with the exception of Ndosi’s starring role as Lilith – they’re constrained by rigid, austere structures that expand on the negotiation of post-new thing improvisation and classical forms first proposed by fellow AACM members Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell in the 1960s. It’s an approach that perfectly delineates the claustrophobic inevitability of Lilith’s horrific situation.

Intergalactic Beings is an unsettling work that channels Chicago’s rich Afrofuturist tradition into an unflinching – and ultimately therapeutic – scrutiny of the origins and consequences of the US’s tortured racial history. As Sun Ra wrote in his poem, The Shadow Of Tomorrow: “The wisdom of the past is the light of the past/The light which is to be is the wisdom of the future/The light of the future casts the shadows of tomorrow” [The Wire]

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