Nicole Mitchell’s Afrofuturistic suite depicts a face-off between dystopia and utopia | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Nicole Mitchell’s Afrofuturistic suite depicts a face-off between dystopia and utopia

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Nicole Mitchell may have moved from Chicago to teach at University of California, Irvine, in 2011, but she performs in town so often that she might as well still live here. In June she and operatic vocalist Lisa E. Harris debuted the suite EarthSeed at the MCA, and last month the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and Chicago World Music Festival jointly sponsored a residency and concert by Bamako*Chicago Sound System, her collaboration with Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko, while local imprint Third World Press released Liberation Narratives, a record that sets poet Haki Madhubuti’s recitations to music by Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble. This concert celebrates another album, Mandorla Awakening: Emerging Worlds, released last spring by the Oak Park-based label FPE. The album documents a concert-length cycle of compositions by a specially configured band that includes writer/vocalist Avery R. Young and players from Black Earth Ensemble along with Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi and Tatsu Aoki on bass, shamisen, and taiko drums. The work posits a future in which a war and disease-wracked dominant culture clashes with Mandorla, a hidden island where people have evolved a way of life in which spirituality, technology, and nature complement each other. This conflict is articulated by clashes between acoustic elements, mainly strings and woodwinds, and electronically distorted sound elements, particularly Alex Wing’s menacing guitar and squalling theremin. Young’s gospel-steeped singing articulates the woe and fear that humans must overcome to resolve the conflict, and an exquisite musical union occurs when Mitchell and Umezaki engage in an intricate, graceful duet.   v

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