by Michele Zipkin
Never had I heard more stylistic diversity in one set than I’d heard from Meshell Ndegeocello at World Cafe Live this past Friday night. Accompanied by seasoned players including Chris Bruce on guitar, Jebin Bruni on keyboard, Abraham Brown on drums, and Paul Bryan on bass, Ndegeocello started by playing songs from a handful of her albums that preceded Comet, Come to Me. As such, practically each song showcased a different genre, but what else would you expect from such a prolific and accomplished musician?
The first set consisted of songs from Plantation Lullabies, Bitter, and Devil’s Halo, including “Soul Record”, “Fool”, “Love You Down” and “Berry Farms”. A fairly sexy drum and bass groove served as the rhythmic backbone of the latter, all too appropriate for the saucy story of the song. Bryan showcased his chops with some seriously funk-driven bass licks.
Ndegeocello more or less alternated between playing bass and singing without being constrained by an instrument. The second set, dedicated to tunes from Comet, Come to Me, allowed for more hands-free vocal work. A dissonant build up gave way to the title track, which sported down-tempo reggae, contemporary jazz and a bit of pop- quite a stylistic one-eighty compared to her usual approaches to songwriting.
“Conviction”, which Ndegeocello described as a friendship breakup song, was probably one of the most rock-forward tunes in the second set. She imparted some pre-song insight by saying, “You can’t judge other people for their choices, but you can choose whether to be around it.” The crowd seemed to have gotten a little sprightly at the start of this one.
According to my bassist concert companion, the light strumming work from both the lady of the hour and her accompanying bass player made for rich, warm tones. Their right hand plucking style for this performance ran contrary to the common strumming theory: the more force, the better the sound.
Other highlights included “Folie a Deux” which, according to Ndegeocello, is French for “Two people involved in craziness,” a notion that basically sums up how she feels about marriage, so she said. And who could forget the encore, a cover of “Friends” by ‘80s hip-hop group Whodini. It’s pretty rare for a musician to cover a rap song, so Ndegeocello said in our interview, but this rendition of hip-hop-gone-funk proved more than unique, and perhaps even more bad-ass than the original.