MeShell Ndegeocello – Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape

MeShell Ndegeocello
Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape

(Maverick – 2002)
by Eugene Holley, Jr.

One of the most underdeveloped stories in modern music is the unacknowledged link between jazz and popular music. Now, we know the mantra: jazz influenced R&B and rock, but one could assume that that influence stopped in the 80s with the rise of rap, even though many hip-hop classics are sampled from Herbie Hancock and Donald Byrd.

The beauty of the D.C. area native bassist/singer/composer Meshell Ndegeocello, a former member of The Black Rock Coalition who released three critically-acclaimed CD’s, Plantation Lullabies, Peace Beyond Passion and Bitter from 1993 to 1999, is that her artistry is clearly informed by America’s classical music. Her bone-thick basstones are informed by the legendary bass god Jaco Pastorius.

Her new CD, Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape — the title refers to the mass-produced nature of today’s art — is an impressive and inspired recording. It’s a soulful, syncretic sound world that combines Weather Report’s jazzy futuristic fusion, the emotional honesty of Marvin Gaye’s Hear My Dear and SUV-friendly hip-hop/go-go beats laced with ancestral African-American poetry and spoken word. Produced by guitarist Allen Cato, Cookie has the obligatory “singles” that a pop record must have. They include the Rockwilder/Missy Elliot-remixed “Pocketbook” with the madcap rapper Redman and the vocal flavor-of-the-moment, Tweet, the dreamy downtime ballad “Earth,” and a sister track to Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book vocally supported by Soul II Soul’s Caron Wheeler and Lalah Hathaway (Donnie’s Daughter) and the salsa-tinged “Hot Night,” which is motored a sample from Hector Lavoe’s “La Fama.”

The recording also boasts more improvisationally textured expressions. “Interlude: 6 Legged Griot Trio (Weariness)” a dirge-like tune powered by drummer Gene Lake, tenor saxophonist Jacque Schwartz-Bart and pianist Federico Gonzalez Pena layered by the poetry of Claude McKay, June Jordan and Etheridge Knight. The hypnotic, heartbeat-pulsed “Akel Dama (Field of Blood)” features keyboardist Michael Cain’s Herbie Hancock-like pianisms and the ebony elegy to Tupac and Biggie, “Jabril,” rings with Marcus Miller’s incredibly fluid solos on fretless bass guitar and bass clarinet.

MeShell Ndegeocello’s husky, contralto is sly, swanky and sophisticated. It mirrors the black, brown and beige complexity of modern life with all of its conceptions and contradictions. More importantly, her music swings in all directions.