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Clip: Meshell Ndegeocello/Oliver Lake improv quintet

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  • Carl Zimring
    As a fan of both Ndegeocello and Oliver Lake, I am looking forward to this CD. Meshell refuses to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 7 5:27 AM
      As a fan of both Ndegeocello and Oliver Lake, I am looking forward to this


      Meshell refuses to be the belle of quintet

      June 7, 2005


      Fans anticipating a concert by bassist and singer Meshell Ndegeocello
      Sunday night at the Park West got just that. Only, it wasn't in the form
      most were expecting.

      Ndegeocello, always a musical chameleon, came to town not to perform her
      solo material, as many expected -- especially since her name alone was on
      the ticket. Instead, she arrived as an ensemble member representing her
      latest project, the Spirit Music Jamia. The improvisational quintet offered
      concertgoers 75 minutes of sensual, groove-heavy music from its album
      "Dance of the Infidel," which already has been released in Europe but will
      not hit shelves here until June 21.

      "Sorry for the misunderstanding," Ndegeocello said, offering an apology of
      sorts -- and her only words to the crowd -- two songs into the concert.
      "But it's all music to feel good to. It's just music to be open to and give
      praise to."

      Despite the potential misrepresentation, which did not appear to be
      Ndegeocello's fault, patient and curious fans were rewarded with material
      that was constructed upon Ndegeocello's strong, frittered bass lines,
      textured samples of political speeches and soaring bursts of brass. The
      expert group, which featured saxophonists Oliver Lake and Ron Blake,
      keyboardist Michael Cain, DJ Jahi Sundance and drummer Quentin Baxter,
      locked into tight song structures, mining the shadowy, spectral tunes for
      all their emotional depth.

      Nevertheless, some crowd members -- and it was a full house -- grew
      impatient, pleading in between songs for Ndegeocello to sing. Not only did
      she not respond to the impassioned requests, the diminutive, bald-headed
      Ndegeocello appeared resistant to any kind of spotlight at all, preferring
      instead to blend in as an anonymous ensemble member. She retreated to the
      right corner of the stage, shrouded in the darkness. At times, she was
      literally steps from being offstage. This strident dismissal of attention
      actually had an opposite affect than intended: Ndegeocello only called more
      attention to herself.

      To fans familiar with her work, this bucking of convention is not
      especially out of character. Throughout her long and always creative
      career, Ndegeocello has invariably surprised listeners -- and her record
      company -- by recording radically different-sounding albums with each
      subsequent release.

      Still, her behavior, and the band's generally insouciant approach, felt
      off-putting and definitely lodged a further distance and disconnect from
      the crowd.

      On their own merits, the seven compositions performed (their titles were
      not announced, and there was no set list offered), ostensibly the entirety
      of the "Dance of the Infidel" record, were intoxicating if a bit
      homogenous. Trumpeter Oliver Lake's riveting solos erupted in squiggly,
      erratic bursts of noise that enlivened and enriched the band's sound, and
      drummer Baxter contributed a skittish, reggaelike beat that dovetailed with
      Ndegeocello's anchoring bass. It's just a shame that she seemed so opposed
      to really owning it.

      Brian Orloff is a Chicago free-lance writer.
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