Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute To Octavia Butler (2008)
There's both a buzz and an independence about flautist Nicole Mitchell. Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute To Octavia Butler is her second disc for a label other than her own and it marks the arrival of a singular talent for whom the future holds much promise. That said there's a pervasive anxiety in this music that can render it forbidding.
While there's nothing intrinsically wrong with edginess in music, when the strength of that quality comes at the expense of others it can make for a frustrating listening. Thus the agitation of "Transition A" comes on like an end in itself, and while the music and its rendering is far too deft to result in some not unprecedented sound and fury, here the result seems too self-contained, devoid of external reference points.
If this is a problem as such, it's only an intermittent one. "Oankali" is an intimation of wider, less claustrophobic vistas made remarkable by the fact that it happens largely over the most rudimentary drum figure. Mankwe Ndosi's declamatory vocalising however, monopolises the ear, and not least because it's nearly impossible to gauge precisely what she's so anxious about. The piece's seemingly indeterminate development however, is captivating.
The same quality is applicable to the following "Adrenalin," where the band's take on the piece's skewed logic gives it buoyancy. Tenor saxophonist David Boykin comes on like an amalgam of Booker Ervin and Gato Barbieri. Nkosi's contribution is again declamatory, but here her work sets up an extraordinary tension with the measured work of the band.
There is little overall sense of the expansive in this music though. In comparison with, say, the ensemble work of Mitchell's namesake Roscoe, there's nothing of that man's parade ground pastiche, and the anxiety referred to above seemingly allows no room for humor.
It could be argued that anxious music like this equates with the anxious times we're living in. Plausible though it might be, there's little of simple human comfort in either the argument or this music.
Track Listing: Wonder; Transition A; Smell of Fear; Sequence Shadows; Oankali; Adrenalin; Transition C; Before and After; Dawn of a New Life.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute; Mankwe Ndosi: voice; David Young: trumpet; David Boykin: tenor saxophone; Tomeka Reid: cello; Justin Dillard: piano; Josh Abrams: bass; Marcus Evans: drums; Avreeayl Ra: percussion.