Meshell Ndegeochello brings her evolutions to World Cafe Live

Meshell Ndegeocello in 2012. Her latest release is "Comet, Come to Me," and she will be at World Cafe Live Friday.
Meshell Ndegeocello in 2012. Her latest release is "Comet, Come to Me," and she will be at World Cafe Live Friday. (MIKE COPPOLA / Getty Images)
Posted: June 07, 2014

Since making her full-length album debut in 1993 with Plantation Lullabies, Meshell Ndegeocello has undergone more musical and lyrical changes than Cher has costumes. Gender- and genre-bending, she has ripped through ever-hazier shades of avant-pop and soul in her most recent albums, the salty jazz and decadent rock of 2012's Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication to Nina Simone, and the oddly layered dub/dance-hall pop of 2014's Comet, Come to Me.

Does she even recognize the woman and the artist she started out as, considering all her changes? "I do, yeah, though I don't believe that I necessarily think that way," says Ndegeocello, her voice a wee hoarse from a cold. "I see what I've done since my start as developing and adapting, you know, not something so structural than say, fluid. I morph. Or I'm morphing." What has driven that morphing? Maturity. Evolving ideas. And, most of all, an open, improv-heavy, collaborative musical ensemble that pushes her "melodic and harmonic" abilities. Longtime guitarist Christopher Bruce, keyboardist Jebin Bruni, and drummer Earl Harvin - who have worked in classical ensembles, contrapuntal jazz bands, Public Image Ltd, and Tears for Fears - aided in the layered arrangements and songwriting of Comet, Come to Me.

"Yeah, they're a sturdy lot," Ndegeocello says. "Even if I didn't play with them, I think we would have somehow interacted, had a dialogue. As friends and as musicians, we have a similar modus operandi." You can hear that on every track of Comet, from the title number to the torrid "Tom," to her twisted take on Whodini's "Friends." Holding back a laugh and a cough, Ndegeocello says, "I don't have the type of camaraderie and balance in my personal relationships as I do with this band."

Ndegeocello sees 2007's The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams as a line of demarcation, freeing her music and allowing her spirituality to open. "That's when I jumped off the cliff," she says, "knowing that I had to start thinking for myself, and be OK with that." Comet, however, often speaks to her distaste with religion, organized or not. "I'm really into God. I'm really not into religion," she says, calling herself a "Judeo-Islamic-Christian-Hindu-influenced agnostic with a lot of Christopher Hitchens and a love of astronomy mixed in." She says it's hard being a woman with that mix of viewpoints ("there's no one to talk to"), but she understands how personal and how deeply rooted religion is, especially when it comes to the fear of death. "I feel like John Coltrane had the best take on it: 'All paths lead to God,' " she says. "Not just one." She says Coltrane's riffing and sublime improvisations are essential to her view of music and spirituality. Asked whether Coltrane is a presence on Comet, Come to Me, she says, enthusiastically, as if her cold has lifted: "I can't do the work of affirming what you hear in your head, but that's what made me fall in love with music in the first place, when I was a kid. It was that dialogue between myself and any artist. It's intimate, and different to me on any and every day." She could well have been talking about her own musical sensibilities.


Meshell Ndegeocello plays at 8 p.m. on Friday at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. Tickets: $25-$40. Information: 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|