Percussionist/composer JoVia Armstrong is an Afrofuturist, a member of the ever-seminal AACM, and an educator who founded the Sounds About Write music school on Chicago’s south side. Currently a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine, Armstrong was the perfect fit to provide a soundtrack to the school’s Black Index art exhibit. The result is The Antidote Suite, comprising five disparate sections covering nearly 32 minutes. Although modest in length, it takes its time, storytelling the roots of a culture with a spectral gleam and stylistic assurance that adds luster and precision to its charms.
The lead section, “Breathe,” is an invocation for calm and balance. A wash of cymbals and electronic effects, mixed with the violin of Leslie DeShazor and the guitar of Jeff Parker, creates a busy tranquility, like a bubbling brook that suddenly levitates and vanishes in a whoosh. “Meditations on Oya” is a paean to the Yoruba goddess of wind and storms, and the uneven whistling sound of buffeting winds introduces torrid but flowing percussion from Armstrong on her hybrid cajón kit, soon joined by Mitchell’s flute as they swoop and circle in a whirlwind weave.
“Beautifully Black” is another exhalation, with legato passages from DeShazor, stately beats from Armstrong, and a strong pulse from bassist Isaiah Sharkey. Jazz heads will delight in the closing section, “Shades and Shapes,” a journey that proceeds from delicate, in-the-pocket funk into DeShazor’s extended, sinuous violin workout, which fades into a gauze of effects until the soothing Rhodes of Amr Fahmy holds sway for a long, smooth landing. Comparisons to Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band from the 1970s are purposeful and warranted.