Meshell Ndegeocello: The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Probably the biggest surprise of guitarist Pat Metheny's By Invitation series at the recently concluded 26th Montreal Jazz Festival was his late night performance with bassist/vocalist/composer Meshell Ndegeocello. Metheny played with a variety of artists during his four-day, five-show run, but only during his collaboration with Ndegeocello's band did he actually relinquish leadership. Standing off to the side of the stage, he let the diminutive Ndegeocello dominate—not only in terms of contributing the lion's share of the music, but also being the most commanding stage presence.

The majority of the music during Ndegeocello's set came from The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel, demonstrating something that has become increasingly apparent since she first appeared on the scene in '93. While she made her biggest leap into popular awareness through her funk-based amalgam of hip-hop and soul, jazz has also been a significant part of the equation. With The Spirit Music Jamia Ndegeocello delivers her most concerted effort yet, a nearly all-instrumental album that is more a vehicle for her increasingly astute writing than her playing. Ndegeocello, in fact, only plays bass on four of the album's eight tracks—relinquishing the more virtuosic demands to Matthew Garrison, although her own playing is never anything less than impressive. She enlists world music artist Sabina, jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson, and urban singer Lalah Hathaway for the three tracks that feature vocals.

The all-star cast includes saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Oliver Lake, trumpeter Wallace Roney, clarinetist Don Byron, emerging harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret, pianist/keyboardist Michael Cain, drummers Jack DeJohnette, Gene Lake, and Chris Dave—plus seemingly countless others. The recording has precedence in Miles' electric period, as well as Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band, most notably in the horn-rich ambience of "Mu-Min and "Luqman. When Ndegeocello herself plays, her elliptical and unrelentingly insistent sense of groove recalls Michael Henderson, who was so effective in bringing a hypnotic vibe to Miles' '70s work.

While things can and do get heated—most notably on "Al-Falaq 113, where Garrett delivers a characteristically powerful solo; and on the African-based groove of "Luqman, where Lake's inherent unpredictability is exploited to full advantage—much of the album has a more relaxed, at times almost meditative vibe. "Acquarium, "Papillon, and the title track, which form the centre section of the album, border on being chill-out music, but they reflect far too much depth in both writing and soloing to be so easily dispensed with. While this is music to relax the spirit, it's also music that constantly engages the mind.

And while the stylistic purview of The Spirit Music Jamia is wide, the more advanced harmonic and improvisational aspects of it makes it unequivocally a jazz record—and consequently an explicit move in a new direction for Ndegeocello, who reveals greater breadth and depth with each passing year.

Visit Meshell Ndegeocello on the web.

Track Listing: Mu-Min; Al-Falaq 113; Acquarium; Papillon; Dance of the Infidel; The Chosen; Luqman; When Did You Leave Heaven.

Personnel: Meshell Ndegeocello: bass (3-5,7), programming (1,3); Oliver Lake: saxophone (1,7); Don Byron: clarinet, bass clarinet (1,7); Joshua Roseman: trombone (1); Michael Cain: piano (2,5-7), keyboards (1,8); Chris Dave: drums (1,4,5,8); Wallace Roney: trumpet (2,7); Did Gutman: keyboards (2,3; programming (3); Brandon Ross: guitar (2,6,7); Gene Lake: drums (2,6); Mino Cinelu: percussion (2,7); Matthew Garrison: bass (2,4,6,7); Sabina: piano, vocals (3); Ron Blake: saxophones (3); Dan Rieser: clay drum (3); Ari Raskin: programming (3); Takuya Nakamura: programming (3); Kenny Garrett: saxophones (2,4,5); Federico Gonzalez Pena: keyboards (4); Oran Coltrane: saxophone (5); Neal Evans: keyboards (5),piano (8); Cassandra Wilson: vocals (6); Gregoire Maret: harmonica (2,7); Jack DeJohnette: drums (7); Pedro Martinez: percussion (7); Yosvany Terry: percussion (7); Lalah Hathaway: vocals (8).

Title: The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Shanachie Records


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Slægt CD/LP/Track Review Slægt
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 24, 2017
Read An Eye on the Future CD/LP/Track Review An Eye on the Future
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Cherry ‎– Sakura CD/LP/Track Review Cherry ‎– Sakura
by John Sharpe
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Blow, Strike & Touch CD/LP/Track Review Blow, Strike & Touch
by Glenn Astarita
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Elusive CD/LP/Track Review Elusive
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 23, 2017
Read Transitions CD/LP/Track Review Transitions
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: September 23, 2017
Read "Into A Myth" CD/LP/Track Review Into A Myth
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 19, 2017
Read "Wake Up Call" CD/LP/Track Review Wake Up Call
by Glenn Astarita
Published: April 24, 2017
Read "Algorithmic Society" CD/LP/Track Review Algorithmic Society
by Jim Trageser
Published: October 23, 2016
Read "Live In New York" CD/LP/Track Review Live In New York
by John Sharpe
Published: October 4, 2016
Read "From Two Balconies" CD/LP/Track Review From Two Balconies
by Geno Thackara
Published: March 21, 2017
Read "Two in a Box" CD/LP/Track Review Two in a Box
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 20, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.