Winter Jazzfest: Saturday Night Marathon
Winter Jazzfest: Wadada Leo Smith and Deerhoof, with Nicole Mitchell's Maroon Cloud

Winter Jazzfest: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble at Le Poisson Rouge

DSC04326Winter Jazzfest 2018 Artist-in-Residence Nicole Mitchell has spent more than three decades on the vanguard of jazz as a composer and flutist, and has developed a unique voice that blends technical innovation with a spiritual outlook. Her latest project, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, is set in a not-too-distant future where a an egalitarian society struggles with how to incorporate technology into our lives. Speaking to The Wire last year, Mitchell says it comes down to how we learn to see ourselves in each other - something which has a good bit of relevance these days:

"How do we honor our wonderful diversity rather than be threatened by it? How do we learn to share our resources and care for all, rather than being selfish? That helped me to arrive at my narrative, which riffs off the question: how do we create an advanced society that is in tune with nature, and how do we actually move away from our addiction to greed, which compromises our love for each other?"

Mitchell blends music from disparate cultures in Mandorla: you can hear Japanese taiko, shakuhachi and shamisen, free jazz, rock, banjo, even the synth-driven sounds of Stockhausen. Mitchell gives each of them equal time, and it's a revelation how much these diverse musical sounds have in common. 

The climax of the work comes in the final part, "Timewrap", in which the extraordinary spoken word artist Avery R. Young channels his inner gospel preacher, screaming and shouting like a man possessed, joining hands with various audience members and promising to take them "to the other side." It was the most ecstatic, thrilling, and inspiring musical moment of this early 2018, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come. 

The prolific musician-scholar Tyshawn Sorey opened, eschewing his usual drumkit for a synth-driven set that was about as avant and modern as anything I've heard in a jazz mien. Not that he or anyone needs to adhere to any standard definition when it comes to playing "jazz."

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