Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler (2008)
This extended work was inspired by the theme of fear in science fiction writer Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, more as an emotional reaction, rather than a specific storyline. Mitchell explains in the liners: "the process of writing this music allowed me to face the feeling of fear head onto enter it and explore it." The unusual back story has drawn Mitchell to new ways of working with an unsettling tonal palette full of clashing sounds, stark juxtapositions and overlapping lines, moving gradually towards resolution over the course of the set. In the middle of all this sits the largely wordless emoting of Mankewe Ndosi tapping directly into the psyche through a litany of human sounds. How you react to this vocal tour de force is likely to likely to determine your reaction to this disc. Even though the voice is mixed down alongside the other instruments, it remains at the heart of the piece. Initially off-putting, I was able to accept it as part of the overall rich sonic tapestry after a couple of listens.
While there are few solo features in the involved group readings, there are nonetheless passages where members of Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble shine: a stretch of free piano from Dillard in "Wonder"; squealing, gobbling, gurgling tenor saxophone from Boykins in "Transition C"; and a spell of piercing, growling flute with vocalised overtones from Mitchell in the same piece, are a few that spring to mind.
Taken as a whole this is an intriguing set, moving outside the comfort zone, but ultimately paying back repeated listens, and a splendid lesson on the merits of sometimes confounding expectations.
Track Listing: Wonder; Transition A; Smell of Fear; Sequence of Shadows; Oankali; Adrenalin; Transition C; Before and After; Dawn of a New Life.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute; David Boykins: tenor saxophone; David Young: trumpet; Mankwe Ndosi: voice; Tomeka Reid: cello; Justin Dillard: piano; Josh Abrams: bass; Marcus Evans: drumset; Avreeayl Ra: percussion.
Record Label: Firehouse 12 Records
Style: Modern Jazz