Carl Orr, Meshell Ndegeocello @ Ronnie Scott’s, London, 13/05/2015

Meshell NdegeocelloSurrounded by London’s gay enclave, Old Compton Street, Ronnie’s is a hallmark of Soho decadence and has been an ambassador for swinging London since 1959. As the doormen open those large glass doors to a fantasy of the idyllic smokey jazz club - famous eyes on the wall of fame, dim lit red shades on the table, soft candlelight and booze - the scene is scored by the very best in live musical improvisation and creative expression. Couple this with the class and cool of Meshell Nedegecello and tonight could well be something special.

The evening starts with support from guitarist Carl Orr, whose accomplished quartet set the tone and some great tunes before Meshell takes to the stage. Fiercely independent, Meshell does it her way without compromise ever since her signing to Madonna’s Maverick Records in the early 90s. With the release of her debut Plantation Lullabies she's stood out as a tour de force with her lush vocals and thrilling bass style.

Opening tonight with "Grace" from the universally recognised classic that is Bitter, the whole room knows they’re in for a treat. It’s sublime. Softly sung, understated, this is the voice of an angel seducing us all with her sugary tongue as she purrs, “Your love’s my only saving grace, you caress my heart, kiss my face.

Following track "Be My Husband" is taken from her recent album, Pour Une Ame Souveraine – A Dedication To Nina Simone, and rings like a southern spiritual with its 5:1 snare and passionate cry. Things move into a slowed down arpeggio version of Leonard Cohen’s "Suzanne" as Meshell croons, “The sea shall set you free.” As the crowd draw breath, many just finishing up their dessert, she cheekily extolls: “Dinner situations are hard. I hope the music’s not effecting your digestion." It’s met by all with a wry laugh as we appreciate her dry humour.

We then get into her fresh funk take of "Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood". Meshell knows how to make you jut your head with the way she taps at her bass. The song was first written for and recorded by Nina Simone in 1964, though this version gives it the sound of something so fresh it’s palpable.

Meshell continues her set with songs mainly songs from Pour Une Ame Souveraine, and a hypnotic dub like track called "See-Line". This song has a plain groove and goes into some reggae space experimental sounds. You get the feeling seeing Meshell is like getting a crash course into the joy, but quite sadly, often pain of the human existence. If you were an alien from another planet and you only had one hour to comprehend the human condition, experiencing a show by Meshell Ndegeocello has to be up there with one of the most effective ways of getting to grips with what all us earth boys and earth girls are going through. The rest of the set including a phenomenal encore of one of her recent killer tracks "Friends". Performing other songs from Comet, Come To Me, she demonstrates a return to form after a few ‘jazz odyssey’ type explorations in recent years.

The thing with Meshell is not that she feels more than us; it’s that she's just able to express it better than the rest of us. Through her fingertips, and through her energy and posture, which exudes the definition of introverted shyness vying for space on stage with a completely confident and intelligent cultural leader. This is an artist who's an example to all who live to love and be free. Meshell is as close to the truth as those searching for it will find or in the words of your humble reviewer here, she basically does it for me, and I hope always will.


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