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Darius Jones: The Oversoul Manual

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The Oversoul Manual is an ambitious and intrepid vocal opus by composer Darius Jones, who forsakes his alto saxophone and all other instruments aside from the four voices in the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit he has assembled for the project. Operating in all permutations from solo to quartet, the singers tackle 15 a cappella etudes over the course of nearly 53 minutes. It’s the latest installment in Jones’ Man’ish Boy saga: the “manual” is a sacred text, an alien birthing ritual that produced the Man’ish Boy himself over a seven-year span.

The ongoing myth-story clearly animates the muse for Jones, who extends his Sun Ra-like plotline with hieroglyphic song titles à la Anthony Braxton and a made-up vocal language for the Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, further baiting the cynics. But The Oversoul Manual is a contoured, formidable, signature work. It eschews vocalese in favor of pure, rounded notes and declamations. It can be very spiritual (especially the joined voices), but in the manner of hymns or chorales rather than gospel-blues testimony. It is frequently penetrating and, especially in solo voice, occasionally visceral.

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