Vocalist Mankwe Ndosi brings a brand-new dictionary to music. Her sonic language is a string of spontaneous combustions that nod toward Jeanne Lee and Meredith Monk, informed by the African village and especially the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, of which she is a member. Felt/Not Said is a 2015 recording by her quartet Body MemOri, framed around a form of somatic healing in which musicians tap into the ways that experiences are stored in the body and express them choosing the paths of flow, freeze, fight, or flight.
If that sounds like a highfalutin traipse through New Age clichés, this penetrating, playful, communally attuned ensemble will set you straight quick. The big name in the band is cellist Tomeka Reid, Ndosi’s former housemate in Chicago and fellow AACM member, but drummer/percussionist Davu Seru is a master at shaving spaces and textures into a finely wrought mosaic of rhythm, and bassist Silvia Bolognesi holds her own beside Reid as they pluck and bow a spectrum of vibrations.
Ndosi doesn’t hog the spotlight—this really is an ensemble—but her charisma is undeniable. On the opening, 10-minute “backmouthfindingpulse,” she mostly stays mum while the instrumental trio concocts the sort of spare dynamism frequently associated with vintage Art Ensemble of Chicago, then joins the fray as the strings increase their quivering. The moods cascade—anguished, carefree, conversational, silly—as she slides into shivers, coos, scats, and a long descending croaky moan. She locks into a repetitious phrase from Reid for some animalistic blues that ranges from triumphant to spooked. The song ends with rhythmic panting in time to the groove, a high-pitched chortle, and a contented sigh.
Like the Art Ensemble, Ndosi turns “black humor” into a double entendre, lightening the incontestably “serious” music as easily as she tags a series of exclamation-pointed “ah hah”s with a question-marked “uh-huh?” on “underinside climbing.” Most of her best work occurs during the five-song vinyl edition of Felt/Not Said. The extra three songs on the digital version tilt the balance toward the two string players. Although six years old, it all sounds brand-new.