Meshell Ndegeocello and Mingus

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Meshell Ndegeocello
  • Meshell Ndegeocello
In his liner notes to Weather (Naïve), the latest album from singer, songwriter, and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, producer Joe Henry writes, "I marvel at musicians and songwriters who sustain careers over decades and yet remain steadfastly outside of genre constrictions and assumptions." That assessment certainly applies to Ndegeocello, who since emerging in 1993 with her classic Plantation Lullabies (Maverick) has changed the focus of her music repeatedly—she's made hard funk, modern soul, rock, jazz, singer-songwriter fare, and more. Yet she's always instantly recognizable: her deep, mysterious voice, her virtuosic musicianship, her enigmatic songwriting. Her melodies are always full of surprises and her lyrics fearless.

Weather is another impressive addition to her discography. Though Ndegeocello clearly accepted input from Henry—regular collaborators of his, like drummer Jay Bellerose, pianist Keefus Ciancia, and guitarist Chris Bruce, play on the album, and some of the songs have his trademark moody ambience—she never yields control of the proceedings for a moment. She gives an appropriately minimal reading of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel," and the album concludes with an introspective, intimate take on the Soul Children song "Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness." Her original tunes feature contributions from several of the album's musicians, including Henry, Bruce, and Ciancia; Chicagoan Chris Connelly cowrote the lyrics to "Rapid Fire." Below you can listen to "Dirty World," a track from the new album.

Ndegeocello's independence and voracious creativity make her a natural choice to guest at Friday night's concert by the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, a wide-ranging salute to brilliant bassist and composer Charles Mingus (April 22 is the 90th anniversary of his birth) called Beneath the Underdog: The Musical World of Charles Mingus. CJE's artistic director, drummer Dana Hall, has opened up the ensemble's focus and methodology since taking the reins a few years ago, and in keeping with this, the group will not only give historically accurate readings of Mingus classics—using original charts—but will also spend some time playing music from one of the bassist's final efforts, a collaboration with Joni Mitchell recorded just a few months prior to his death on January 5, 1979. (Mitchell named the album after him.) The bassist wrote music for three new songs, and the record also includes a cover of his brilliant Lester Young salute "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat."

Ndegeocello will sing and play bass with the CJE for a handful of tunes. Also joining in for a spell will be Christian McBride, possibly the most popular and celebrated jazz bassist of his generation.

Meshell Ndegeocello, "Dirty World"

photo: Charlie Gross

Today's playlist:

Sammy Ayala, Sammy Ayala (Candela)
Jason Kahn/Günter Müller/Christian Wolfarth, Limmat (Mikroton)
Arch70, Arch70 (Pling)
Ensemble Moshtaq, 14 Cheerful Pieces (Buda)
Nella Dodds, This Is a Girl's Life: The Complete Wand Recordings 1964-65 (Kent)

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