Clip: Meshell Ndegeocello/Oliver Lake improv quintet
- 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
BY BRIAN ORLOFF
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
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
Still, her behavior, and the band's generally insouciant approach, felt
off-putting and definitely lodged a further distance and disconnect from
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.