When: Fri., Nov. 23, 7 & 10 p.m. 2012
Few musicians are better suited to pay tribute to iconoclastic jazz singer Nina Simone than Meshell Ndegeocello. On her lovely new album, Pour une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone (Naive), Ndegeocello remakes 14 songs upon which her subject left an indelible mark, including a transformation of Leonard Cohen's folksy yarn "Suzanne" and the Simone original "Four Women." Though Ndegeocello is an expressive vocalist and virtuosic bassist, she isn't really a jazz singer. But because Simone herself flouted what was expected of a jazz singer in the 50s and especially the 60s—injecting fierce sociopolitical criticism into her work, ignoring repertory orthodoxy—it hardly matters. What binds these two women is their independence and disregard for music-biz rules, and considered in that light, Ndegeocello's effort to fill these songs with her own personality is the ultimate salute to Simone. Her take on "Real Real," which features harmony vocals by Toshi Reagon, is sultry, polished pop, in contrast with Simone's gutbucket original. "Don't Take All Night," with harmony singing by Sinead O'Connor, gives the blues a dusky country twang, and "Feeling Good" imparts emotional ambiguity to a song that was flat-out triumphant in Simone's version. There's little trace of Simone in the performances—Pour une Ame Souveraine sounds like an especially rich and varied Ndegeocello album—but she's all over their spirit and vibe. Ndegeocello is joined tonight by guitarist Chris Bruce and keyboardist Jebin Bruni, who form the core of the agile band on the record, and drummer Michael Jerome. —Peter Margasak Jeff Parker opens.