Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s stunning 1993 debut Plantation Lullabies (Maverick) stands up as a work of great promise from an intriguing artist. A multiinstrumentalist who sticks primarily to electric bass–that’s her with John Mellencamp, playing bass and singing on his cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night”–this young woman (her bio says she was born in the “late 60s”) has traversed the wilds of hip hop, jazz fusion, funk, rock, and soul to forge a wholly unusual and sumptuous creation. Her songs, mostly about blackness and womanhood, are sensual and intense. “Shoot’n Up and Gett’n High,” for example, matter-of-factly examines the use of drugs to escape the racially compounded problems of poverty, and while she doesn’t condone the practice, her almost sultry delivery of the lines “Thought I was shootin’ up Africa in my veins / White man’s voodoo slow fuckin’ my brain” vividly gets inside the sensation. Affiliations with New York’s Black Rock Coalition, cultural critic Greg Tate, and a number of top-notch jazzers (pianist Geri Allen and saxophonist Joshua Redman both play on the album) are manifest in her complex verbal-musical latticework. Her good-time collaboration with notorious heartland rocker Mellencamp seems at odds with a tune like “Soul on Ice,” which excoriates black men’s obsession with white women (“My brothers attempt to defy the white man’s law and his system of values / Defile his white women / But, my, my, master’s in the slave house again”). Yet NdegeOcello’s unflappable strength dares such questioning, only adding to her enigmatic allure. And her music flat out kicks, too. Friday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Baptiste Mondino.