Recorded live in Chicago and performed in 2015, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary celebration of the AACM, Mandorla Awakening II is a resplendent reminder of why that organization’s ethos remains so invaluable. It is ambitious, adventuresome, defiant of genres and conventional wisdom and wildly dynamic. Its ability to be astral-ethereal and grassroots folky in its sensibility—sometimes within the same tune—makes it a kindred spirit to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s essential Live in Paris, from 1969.
Nicole Mitchell was president of the AACM from 2009-’10, before taking a teaching job at the University of California, Irvine, in 2011. She is undoubtedly one of the top flutists in jazz, and no fewer than four of the 10 songs here are righteous showcases for her, sometimes in thrilling tandem with Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. There are no other “horns”—winds, reeds or brass—among the other six members of Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, but the collective energy is plenty robust.