Sunday, January 13, 2008

Meshell Ndegeocello @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, 1/11

While a big chunk of the jazz world migrated to the IAJE in Toronto, I hopped down to New York this weekend, primarily but not exclusively to hear the incomparable Meshell. (especially since I missed her hit in Boston this summer.) First, I'd not been to this venue, either by its new name or when it was NorthSix, but I like it a lot. Apparently the changes the Bowery Ballroom made when they bought it have made a huge difference- it's sleek looking and, far more important, good sounding, and the sightlines are solid. (Well, except when middle-aged drunk people shove their way in front of you to get a better look. Sigh)

Her show was really great; a slightly pared down band of two guitars- Oren Blowdow providing primarily colors and sheen, the other soloing more- Mark Kelly on bass and drummer whose name I'm afraid I missed was tight and responsive. The music was split between items from her most recent effort (my brief review here) and stuff I hadn't heard before, but I guess she's been touring with. (some, including "Mass Transit" and "Lock and Load" is on her myspace page) As I mentioned in my album review, this music is sonically and rhythmically harder edged and "punker", for lack of a better word, than anything I'm used to from her, and even blunter lyrically- "Lock and Load" opens with images I see as scared soldiers exerting control, "Sloganeer" probes the mind of a young suicide bomber. That said, she is still as funky a bass player as ever- she opened the show just playing half notes on bass behind an instrumental, and I could feel the room shake, and her bass openings on tunes like "Top Shelf" were at once fleet-footed and so full of bottom that everything vibrated. All that said, Matt Kelly was a fantastic second bass- I can't imagine a more intimidating gig for a bass player, and he was more than up to it, never second guess, always laying it down. I was saying to my friend and former N$V mainstay Sasha, she makes me rethink most of what I'm doing every time I hear her, and that's a great thing.

The opener was a local jam unit called Pimps of Joytime. I'm not really the best person to be reviewing jamband stuff, so I'll be brief. First, they're not bad; the rhythm section was really solid, and the singer had this Prince-ish flasetto that was impressive. But, to my ears they're not as good live as the stuff on the web- the solos go nowhere, and the tunes without the bells and whistles were pretty generic- struck me as second-rate Santana circa 1972.

And- this is what got to me- the leader, who my radar said was even whiter than I am, had this drawly jive-talking schtick between tunes that I couldn't buy at all. I know for me, being a white musician who plays leads a band where the influence of black funk music is pretty obvious, and where you're trying to attract an audience that digs that, the choices you make in how you present yourself are tricky. How do you acknowledge your debt to that style with out sounding like a stylistic tourist or voyeur, or worse a sycophant? I don't have an answer, but I'm pretty sure that wearing aviator sunglasses and talking like a pimp with a drawl isn't the way to do it.

But- so as not to end on a dark note, the venue is cool, and Meshell is on her game, and her game is always at a Patriots kind of level. (I had to sneak that in, 17-0 and all) Check her when she's coming your way.


suomynona said...

Nice review. If you change the spelling to Ndegeocello, it might come up in the search engines more :)

P.S. Her drummer's name that night was Deantoni Parks, who is also in a band called Kudu.

TxLuv said...

I too heard these jams in Houston last year during the spring. Is this on any particular album?? I have all her albums yet alas I need a new "fix". Let's just say my tolerance requires a higher dose of funk.