angel bat dawid is chicago music’s oracle

February 22, 2019
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Angel Elmore is a special person who makes special music. Even before I first met Angel, at Chicago’s great music store Hyde Park Records, where she is a font of crucial knowledge from behind-the-counter, friends were quick to shower lavish her with praise. They talked about how her warmth and humanism, her deep respect for and encyclopedic pursuit of the Black experience, all inform the energy that pours out of the songs she records as Angel Bat Dawid.

Angel sound grows at the intersection of improvisation and composition, spirituality and location, history and timelessness. And while it may be easy to sense some of the spirits that inhabit Angel’s debut album, The Oracle — specifically, the interstellar mythology of Sun Ra, the radical creativity of Chicago’s own Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the multi-disciplinary alignment of the Black Arts Movement — her relationship to and reconstitution of these significant points of Blackness are wholeheartedly hers.    

The Oracle was recorded over two years all around the world, yet almost exclusively on her own — the exception being “Capetown,” a long stitched-together bit of improv between Angel on voice and clarinet and South African drummer Asher Simiso Gamedze. It is akin to a mixtape diary of Angel’s thoughts, interests and impulses. There are two dedications which point to historical Black Chicagoans: the great jazz musician Yusef Lateef (on the soft universal map of “Destination”) and the poet/artist/arts historian Margaret Taylor-Burroughs (on “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black,” based on Burroughs’ poem of the same name). There is a wonderful, outer-space folk song, “We Are Starzz”, like the ones that Ra specialized in, but which could also double as a great lost David Bowie tune. And there is a conceptual freedom at play throughout, most especially on “Black Family,” where synthesizers, clarinets and children’s voices express a utopian alternate reality.   

Bring it all together, and Angel’s role as the auntie soothsayer of a particular corner of Chicago’s arts community — the one that stretches from Ben LaMar Gay’s blues and NoName’s raps, to Jamila Woods’ poetic stories and Theaster Gates’ art-conceptual development — comes into focus. Like her compatriots, Angel Elmore has the city’s Black roots and history in the bones of her work. And she uses them to tell sharp and important truths.