Me'Shell NdegeOcello's stunning 1993 debut Plantation Lullabies (Maverick) stands up as a work of great promise from an intriguing artist. A multiinstrumentalist who sticks primarily to electric bass--that's her with John Mellencamp, playing bass and singing on his cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night"--this young woman (her bio says she was born in the "late 60s") has traversed the wilds of hip hop, jazz fusion, funk, rock, and soul to forge a wholly unusual and sumptuous creation. Her songs, mostly about blackness and womanhood, are sensual and intense. "Shoot'n Up and Gett'n High," for example, matter-of-factly examines the use of drugs to escape the racially compounded problems of poverty, and while she doesn't condone the practice, her almost sultry delivery of the lines "Thought I was shootin' up Africa in my veins / White man's voodoo slow fuckin' my brain" vividly gets inside the sensation. Affiliations with New York's Black Rock Coalition, cultural critic Greg Tate, and a number of top-notch jazzers (pianist Geri Allen and saxophonist Joshua Redman both play on the album) are manifest in her complex verbal-musical latticework. Her good-time collaboration with notorious heartland rocker Mellencamp seems at odds with a tune like "Soul on Ice," which excoriates black men's obsession with white women ("My brothers attempt to defy the white man's law and his system of values / Defile his white women / But, my, my, master's in the slave house again"). Yet NdegeOcello's unflappable strength dares such questioning, only adding to her enigmatic allure. And her music flat out kicks, too. Friday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Baptiste Mondino.