Making jazz records is easy. Anyone with half a name and the slightest interest (read: Lea DeLaria and Queen Latifah) can hire a bassist and book a session. You don't really need any ideas, just a wisp of a voice and a desire to be "moody.
Fortunately Meshell Ndegeocello is smarter than that. She's hung with Madonna and the Stones and recorded rock and funk records, but her foray into grownup art (or whatever) is more than a vague sorta Billie redux. Instead she reaches back to '80s style integrations of jazz composition and electric instruments, not rehashing the M-BASE Collective but it's hard to imagine she doesn't have some of those discs at home.
Ndegeocello doesn't sing on the record and she only plays bass on a few tracks, but she gets composer credits (sharing the honors on some tracks with Oliver Lake, Don Byron, and others on a few), does some "programming (another '80s nod), and clearly serves as ringleader for the session. Along with Byron and Lake, Jack DeJohnette, Brandon Ross, Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney, and Gregoire Maret, among others, fill out the band. And it is a band record. Lalah Hathaway and M-BASE alum Cassandra Wilson provide vocals, but most of the tracks are instrumental.
It's an admirable and clearly heartfelt attempt, even if much of it is burdened by overly bright keyboards and bass. It's not until the last three tracks that Spirit Music Jamia (the name given to her band) hits its stride. Wilson's vocals and Ross' guitar on "The Chosen make that track a standout. Lake's solo on "Luqman justifies the preceding jazz lite, and Hathaway's take on "Heaven (also known as "When Did You Leave Heaven, recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan, Little Jimmy Scott, and Nancy Wilson) provides a nice, if slight, coda for an honest effort.
Mu-Min; Al-Falaq 113; Acquarium; Papillon; Dance of the Infidel; The Chosen; Luqman; When Did You Leave Heaven.
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).