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Angel Bat Dawid - The Oracle Music Album Reviews

The debut from the Chicago-based composer and clarinetist serves as a vibrant, spiritual, free-jazz document of black life as it stands today.

Years ago, we would record the soundtrack of our lives on cassette. A blank tape became filled with not only the music that we listened to but also what surrounded that music, the breadth of our experiences. As part of a limited edition, the Chicago-based clarinetist will release her debut album, The Oracle, on cassette tape. It evokes how the album itself was conceived—Angel Bat Dawid overdubbed, mixed, and performed almost all of the voices and instruments herself, and recorded and produced the album mainly on her cell phone as she trekked across the globe. The result is a spiritual opus of one’s refusal to accept the cards that life has dealt her.

After a brain tumor diagnosis halted her music studies at Roosevelt University, Dawid began working full-time to pay off the bills she had racked up post-surgery. This included a stint as a hip-hop producer, who teamed up with another fellow Chicagoan, rapper/producer DeLundon, to form the group Angel/DeLundon. Meanwhile, her classical training on piano and clarinet had gathered dust. In 2014, Dawid quit her job, cashed out her 401K, and lived off of that for one year as she discovered (and rediscovered) her connection to free and spiritual jazz.

The Oracle charts Dawid’s journey with improvised music and all that inspired her during her world travels. It conjures a vast, immersive aural exploration of black experiences, from the unwavering strength of the “Black Family” to the plethora of borrowed traditions, notably call and response: “Capetown” features an exchange between South African drummer Asher Simiso Gamedze and Dawid on clarinet, passionate and untempered. On “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black,” as layered vocals, tinged with traditional gospel and operatic contralto, become intertwined, Dawid transforms the first line of a poem into a prophetic and resonant call. The song’s universal theme of racism in America grows more palpable, especially after hearing the line that follows: “What it means to be captive in this dark skin.”

As a direct response, Dawid counters with “We Are Starzz.” Written especially for her live set just last month at NYC’s Winter JazzFest, she delves into Afrofuturism as digital and acoustic sounds converge seamlessly, like Sun Ra’s magnum opus, “Space Is the Place.” Thematically, it not only denotes the first glimmer of hope for the future of blacks on the album, but it also marks perhaps Dawid’s own reawakening through avant-garde music in her adopted home of Chicago.

Despite her journey from London to South Africa captured on The Oracle, it’s Chicago that serves as the album’s through line. Dawid summons the spirits of the movement’s progenitors, like Sun Ra, both in her playing and in her production, to guide her through unchartered territory. Much like Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount), she not only surrenders her given name (Angel Elmore), but more importantly, she abandons her dependence on a score, both in life and in music. As she captures the unbridled sound of obstacles overcome, history revered, and a future imagined, The Oracle serves as a vibrant document of black life as it stands today.

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