I remember my former co-worker at WBLS, New York, Vaughn Harper, back-announcing a record by this artist, and being impressed at how smooth and easily he pronounced her name in that big deep voice of his. It is one that encourages the mind and eye to oppose each other while the brain takes a brief holiday. That was twenty years ago wow! But just like the proverbial and clichéd phoenix, Meshell Ndegeocello ("n-day-go-chello") is back on the scene! This time as the nucleus of an artistic aggregation of Jazz entitled "The Spirit Music Jamia" [Shanachie Entertainment 5755], or "spiritual groove music suitable for free minds, open hearts, and shaking behinds." I don't know about that last one unless the posteriors are a-bumpin' slowly. This is some of the freshest Jazz that I have encountered lately given that my focus is usually on pumpin' club and descendants of disco music. Eight tracks compiled and motivated by the aura of Me'shell, who even plays her bass guitar on some of them and wrote all but one; I just know her as the singer, now add producer props as well.
It takes me back to my early days in college radio, when the only way a brotha could get on my liberal arts college radio station was to do a Jazz show. I must admit to not listening to as much of this genre as I used to; I mainly catch it on NPR or college radio since there isn't a commercial terrestrial station in the market I reside in. But anyway, these are the breakdowns:
Cut one, "Mu-Min" is a lively kick-off cut in a traditional mode. One of my faves is "Aquarium," cut three, whose meditational thoughts bubble to the surface like a Mahavishnu Orchestra jam. Also mello-rific with a dash of funk, its "fish in an Aquarium" hook is a joy. "Papillon," cut four, is mellow like a Return to Forever or '70s Stanley Clarke jam. Great on a lazy summer afternoon or cozy cold winter's fire's night dance. Five is the "Dance of the Infidel" and bogs the album-down; Six, "The Chosen" is more mellowness at the beginning Cassandra Wilson shines on lead vocals; Eight: "Heaven" - is Lalah (pronounced "lay-lah") Hathaway singing out to her late father Donnie? I hear him in her phrasing, pace, and even voice. Michael Cain does nice things to the ivories on this one as well.
My only issue with this is that these are familiar riffs and grooves from thirty years ago repackaged; solemn proof that maybe nothing is new except the playaz. I wish someone would come up with a new musical scale and/or tempo that would be truly innovative in this genre. Simultaneously they are a tribute to America's indigenous classical music, and that keeps it fresh. This is especially true on cut number two, "Al-Falaq 113," an ode to Miles Davis with Wallace Roney paying homage on trumpet. Also featured and of note on these delightful minute spiral channels are Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Garrett, Oran Coltrane, and Sabina of the Brazilian Girls.
Meshell has obviously been dabbling in the Arabic language and characters from the Holy Qur'an, as depicted on the cover artwork; an especially brave move given the current world political climate. It is another example of musicians attempting to bridge the gaps of state, I guess; that's how she is.
The only web site available here is the one from the label, www.Shanachie.com; attempts to get the 411 from Meshell herself proved fruitless, and that is a shame; I would have loved to have been able to quote directly from an artist who is so deep, so I'll just use one from her liner notes, "these collaborators blessed me with their faith and trust within themselves..." Okay then, four-and-a-half stars.