This story is featured in CityBeat's Nov. 1 print edition.
Meshell Ndegeocello’s latest album, The Omnichord Real Book, is a departure of sorts. It’s her 13th studio recording over the last 30 years, a feat of endurance that bundles up everything she’s experienced — from a musical journey that has investigated multifarious genres to the travails of her identity as a bisexual woman of color — into 18 songs, each a look into a fascinating life that keeps moving and changing.
The Omnichord Real Book is also Ndegeocello’s first for the iconic Blue Note record label. It should then come as no surprise that it delves deeper into jazz than anything she’s ever done, 72 minutes of music rich in rhythmic nuance and various voices.
“This album is about the way we see old things in new ways,” Ndegeocello said in the press notes that accompanied the release of The Omnichord Real Book in June. “Everything moved so quickly when my parents died. Changed my view of everything and myself in the blink of an eye. As I sifted through the remains of their life together, I found my first Real Book, the one my father gave me. I took their records, the ones I grew up hearing, learning, remembering. My mother gifted me with her ache. I carry the melody that defined her experience and, in turn, my experience of this thing called life calls me to disappear into my imagination and to hear the music.”
Sure enough, the sounds therein represent an emotional ride that ranges from spare mood pieces to widescreen epics like “ASR,” which features ace guitarist Jeff Parker. The seven-minute-plus centerpiece deftly moves through different time signatures as a way of mimicking the inevitable ups and downs of one’s life, punctuated with the recurring refrain “healing my heart.” “ASR” transports through its searching guitar lines, hypnotic rhythms, atmospheric keys and interweaving male/female vocals.
It should be interesting to see how Ndegeocello presents the songs of The Omnichord Real Book in a live setting — not only because of their acutely personal nature but also because the music is as entrancing as anything you’re likely to witness in the year 2023.
Meshell Ndegeocello plays the Ludlow Garage on Nov. 17 at 8:30 p.m. Info: ludlowgaragecincinnati.com.
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