Marcel Proust, his memory kindled by a simple madeleine cookie, characterizes my musical experience best: the slightest stimulation of the senses—even one so mere as the sweet taste of a cookie—can incite a flood of memories and nostalgia. Though Darius Jones’ The Oversoul Manual arouses me through music, the effect remains the same: I am at once overwhelmed by a flood of associations, the recognition of which, is my sincere pleasure. As the fourth installment of the composer’s epic saga, The Oversoul Manual represents an ancient musical ritual, the product of which is life itself, the birth of the “Man’ish Boy.” With its minimalist bare-structure, Jones creates as palette for the listener to have his or her own personal, unique experience. The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, an ensemble of four vocalists consisting of Amirtha Kidambi, Sarah Martin, Jean-Carla Rodea, and Kristin Slipp, at the same time comforts with its simplicity, while transcending expectations with unique timbres.
The text in The Oversoul Manual is minimized to solfège syllables—la, mi, re, among others—distancing the audience from the composer’s individual meaning, and thus freeing one to interpret the music at will. Listening, I am fully immersed in the soundscape, in which I can distinguish my most cherished musical memories. Jones at times meticulously builds his sonorities through additive and subtractive processes. A solitary voice provides a pedal point from which the other singers gradually emerge, creating unique chords. Conversely, as soon these phrases are constructed, the voices are gradually subtracted, revealing elementary intervals. Occasionally, these sentences obtain extraordinary timbres, especially when the tones are not decorated with vibrato; the absence of these slight tonal oscillations expose the purity of the tones. For myself, these moments evoked the surreal ethereality of a hidden synagogue organ—memories which captivated me as a young boy attending Hebrew school.
Indeed, The Oversoul Manual merely grazes upon its imagery through vague impressions and episodes. We are not provided the proverbial coziness of a defined tonal key. Instead, voices phase in and out continuously. The music is thus not defined by cadences, but by individual chords that lack resolution, intervals between tones, or even solitary pitches. Though, Jones does not subscribe to any one school of modernism. At its most impressionistic moments, a pitch from one sonority suspends into the next, creating a continuous flow of hazy ambiguity, bringing to mind Debussy’s works. In contrast, the music at times takes on an abrasive, choppy texture—each chord interrupted roughly by the next. The vocalists seem at odds with each other, creating dissonant harmonies. These short, episodic bursts remind me of Stravinsky’s primitivism: rough and unyielding.
The Oversoul Manual’s diversity of musical practices becomes a genre in and of itself—an ideal stage for Darius Jones’ on-going Man’ish Boy mythology. Jones maintains a nostalgic love for the purity and versatility of the human voice; in his youth, the composer served as the gospel choir director for his church in Virginia. The Elizabeth-Caroline Unit brings, not only Jones, but also the listeners themselves to a homecoming—a remembrance of our roots, the trial and error of our discovery of music itself. The birth of the Man’ish Boy is truly the birth of the love of music, in all of us.