Meshell Ndegeocello feat. Spirit Music Jamia
Meshell Ndegeocello is one of those rare artists who have won a large fan-base by simply following her muse wherever it leads--which in her case has been innovative, challenging, striking and often surprising directions. In the twelve years since her debut release, the singer/songwriter, bassist, and producer has taken a different musical direction with virtually every recording. Her latest project, Dance Of The Infidel (to be released on Shanachie Entertainment June 21, 2005) showcases her Spirit Music Jamia ensemble, a stunning all-star vehicle that plays spiritual groove music--music for free minds, open hearts and shaking behinds! This new recording project features such notable artists as Cassandra Wilson, Miles Davis-alum Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Garrett, Lalah Hathaway, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Sabina (The Brazilian Girls vocalist), Ron Blake and more, as well as Meshell herself as musical director, bassist and composer. Dance Of The Infidel is destined to be one of 2005's landmark events in music, a beacon of originality, musicianship and spiritual feeling in an often bleak contemporary landscape dominated by musical mediocrity.
"I've always dreamed about being in a group," Meshell muses, "being surrounded by musicians like in all those big bands I admired when I was a kid. When I play solo I'm often out front, and that's not the place I was really looking for."
Indeed The Spirit Music Jamia takes it's cue from Miles Davis' ground-breaking groove-oriented Seventies' ensemble where Miles often functioned as a kind of ringmaster for musical creation via the various musicians' soloing and ensemble playing. The Spirit Music Jamia ("jamia" is an ancient word meaning "school")--which in its live structure is anchored by a core group of Chris Dave on drums, Meshell on bass, Michael Cain on keyboards, Ron Blake and Oliver Lake on saxophones and Jahi Sundance on turntables--draws on funk, jazz, Afrobeat and impressionistic soundscapes as Meshell sets the pulse on bass and the other musicians deliver "free" solos to create a brew that is by turns hypnotic (as on the album's opening track "Mu-min"), dazzling and most often very emotional.
The vocal tracks (handled by special guests rather than Meshell) fit in very naturally nestled next to the extended, exploratory instrumental tracks. "Aquarium," featuring vocals by Sabina of rising stars The Brazilian Girls, achieves a whimsical, languid almost Sade-like charm. "The Chosen" is crafted by Grammy Award winner Cassandra Wilson into a sweet dIrge of love and longing, while Lalah Hathaway turns the standard "How Could Heaven Let You Go" (the only non-original song) into a deeply soulful late-night blues that somehow seems like a logical conclusion to the program.
"Papillion," anchored by a repeated mbira-like (kalimba) pattern is trans-global impressionism while "Dance Of The Infidel" delivers expansive cinematic exploration. All in all the album is a tour-de-force which delivers music that is challenging yet accessible, abstract yet soulful and ultimately speaks as a coherent whole in spite of the diversity of individual tracks.
"My intention was to create music that allows the musician to interpret and self-express," Meshell notes. "On this album, the individuality of each player is what drew me to them and I am grateful to each and every one. Music for me is my prayer, my praise, but also an opportunity to listen and hear how musicians can take a seed and create, grow, build, communicate between each other, paint, fly, fall, return, then depart again on the unknown journey. These collaborators blessed me with their faith and trust within themselves. Words fail me often and so this is the most meaningful album for me. May whoever needs it, find it, and all praise is for the Creator. I am grateful."
Meshell Ndegeocello was born in 1969 in Germany, the daughter of an American soldier who also happened to be a saxophonist. Her family moved to Virginia in the early Seventies. Her passion for music led her to play in the clubs of Washington, DC, before she went on to study at Howard University. She auditioned for several bands, including Living Colour, but ultimately decided to be a solo artist, playing bass, keyboards and guitar while creating a vocal style that combined singing with the talking style of go-go. In the early Nineties she was courted by Prince for his Paisley Park label but ultimately signed with Madonna's Maverick Records. Plantation Lullabies, her debut recording in 1993, featured Geri Allen, "Wah Wah" Watson, and Joshua Redman and yielded the hits "If He Was Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" and "Outside Your Door." Her vocals and bass work on the John Mellancamp hit version of Van Morrison's "Wild Night" expanded her audience. Meshell's challenging lyrics, which touched on issues of sex, politics and race, and her original amalgam of funk, jazz and folk made an immediate impact. She is widely considered the pioneer that opened the "neo-soul" door to others such as D'Angelo, Maxwell, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott.
Peace Beyond Passion, which followed in 1996, moved in a heavier funk direction, tinged with rock whereas Bitter offered intimate, personal, largely acoustic compositions. Her 2002 album Cookie - The Anthropological Mixtape offered a denser, hip hop influenced approach whereas Comfort Woman, released the following year, drew on dub and electronica to create evocative soundscapes. Throughout she became a prolific presence on film soundtracks such as The Hurricane, Down In The Delta, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Higher Learning, Batman and others while she made her mark as a composer with the scores for A Time For Dancing, Disappearing Acts and Lackawanna Blues. Along the way she has collaborated with an array of artists ranging from the Rolling Stones, Prince, and Marcus Miller to Madonna, Paul Simon and Herbie Hancock. Dance Of The Infidel is just the latest chapter in one of the most extraordinary artistic journeys of the past fifteen years.