Technically, Meshell Ndegeocello didn't play the 9:30 club Tuesday night. She was onstage, as bald and as beautiful as ever, but striking physical characteristics aside, the woman on the bass bore little resemblance to the beloved unconventional neo-soul/funk/R&B artist.
Ndegeocello, who appeared along with Joshua Redman, has been completely absorbed by the Spirit Music Jamia, the fusion jazz group of her latest disc, "Dance of the Infidel." She shunned a grand entrance, preferring to walk on surrounded by the band, then hid behind Chris Dave's drum kit and proceeded to ignore her solo catalogue for the entire set.
There were no recollections of "Barry Farms" and no wondering "Who Is He? (And What Is He to You?)." In fact, Ndegeocello refrained from singing and pretty much parted her lips only to thank the crowd for its "time and energy," and to introduce the phenomenal Jamia ensemble, which includes saxophonists Ron Blake and Oliver Lake and DJ Jahi Sundance.
But, as is the case with Ndegeocello's previous reinventions, banning old material from the playlist was a brilliant move. The Washington-area-bred musician led the group through more than an hour of rich instrumental sound -- breaking into "Outside Your Door" or "Stay" would have disturbed the groove.
The Spirit Music Jamia served up everything from reverberating dub reggae and Afrobeats borrowed from Fela Kuti to the sweeping opuses "Al-Falaq 113" and "Luqman" and the gorgeous unreleased gem "Red Planetary Skywalker." And judging from her deep knee bends, squeezed-shut eyes and the occasional smile, the latest progression in Ndegeocello's career couldn't suit her any better.
-- Sarah Godfrey