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If singer, bassist, and songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello has established anything throughout her career it’s that she’s an astonishingly mercurial musician who seems to delight in defying expectations. (She classifies her music on her MySpace page as “Japanese Classic Music / Christian Rap / Regional Mexican.”) Not so long ago she was headed toward straight instrumental jazz after years of tooling with diverse strains of soul and funk, but on the new The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (Emarcy/Decca) she takes yet another new path, and it's her best record in years.
The record has splashes of new wave, jazz-funk, and faux-metal, but it's still her leanest, most direct, and bracing work in nearly a decade. A slew of guest musicians—including jazz heavies like Pat Metheny, Robert Glasper, Oliver Lake, Graham Haynes, and James Newton, as well as the Malian singer Oumou Sangare—all make subtle contributions, never directing attention away from the leader. The wide-ranging lyrics are a wild ride through personal spirituality, a kind of internal, fantastic dialogue about locating a sensible spot in the universe, which Ndegeocello doesn’t sound certain she will. I’ve found it easy to look past some of the verbal mumbo jumbo and concentrate exclusively on the music, which sounds as ambitious as any record I’ve heard all year.
Ndegeocello performs with a quintet tonight at House of Blues; surprisingly, she's ceding bass playing duties to Mark Kelley.
The Lost Generation, The Sly, Slick and the Wicked/Young Tough and Terrible (Edsel/Brunswick)
Brötzmann/Mangelsdorff/Sommer, Pica Pica (Unheard Music Series/FMP)
Gonzales, Solo Piano (No Format)
Sound Directions, The Funky Side of Life (Stones Throw)