Title: Maroon Cloud
Artist: Nicole Mitchell
Label: FPE Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: August 20, 2018
Jazz flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell’s latest album, Maroon Cloud, was recorded live in Brooklyn’s National Sawdust as part of multi-instrumentalist and avant-garde composer John Zorn’s Stone Commissioning Series. The album features Mitchell performing eight of her original compositions for flute, with vocalist Fay Victor, pianist Aruán Ortiz, and cellist Tomeka Reid. Speaking of Maroon Cloud, Mitchell writes, “Imagination, especially Black imagination, is a really vital and undervalued resource. It’s very clear that we can’t continue in the same direction that we’ve gone, but we need to return to the source of where imagination and creativity come from, because if we don’t have another vision then we can’t implement it, and we can’t make a different future. What makes us special as human beings is our ability to imagine things that don’t even exist yet.”
In this light, Maroon Cloud can be considered a part of the developing ideology of Afro-futurism—a mode of thinking that encourages the envisioning of Black life beyond our current reality. In fact, themes of Afro-futurism can be located in the album’s title itself. While the word “cloud” can refer to a space reserved for imagination and creativity, “maroon” is able to simultaneously embody a couple of meanings: Africans who escaped slavery in the Caribbean or “people being abandoned to their fate.”
Mitchell’s consideration of Black futures is immediately apparent by taking a glance at the composition of the ensemble. The omission of drums is an unusual move for a jazz ensemble or an ensemble that performs music of the African diaspora; however, Mitchell believes it creates “other ways of coming together” because of the ensemble’s need to move and create in “a new direction.”
While Mitchell continues the line of Afro-futurism through the use of her avant-garde jazz background, she certainly makes use of the blues tradition. Whether that be in Victor’s vocals and spoken word on the tracks “Warm Dark Realness,” “Vodou Spacetime Kettle,” and “Hidden Choice;” or Mitchell’s solos on “No One Can Stop Us” and “A Sound;” or the rhythm provided by Ortiz and Reid throughout the album; or the call-and-response between all members of the ensemble, roots of the blues are found throughout the album.
Maroon Cloud manages to “sonically explore the space within our minds where all ideas come from” and is sure to encourage the listener’s envisaging of possible Black futures.
Reviewed by Kennedi Johnson