Dance of the Infidel

by: Meshell Ndegeocello Presents the Spirit Music Jamia

Filling the roles of central artist, composer, and director, Meshell Ndegeocello takes a left turn with Dance of the Infidel, a very loose affair that nonetheless flows with a natural grace. It is, for the most part, a jazz album, indicated by a shifting lineup that includes Jack DeJohnette, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, and Kenny Garrett, along with vocal turns from Cassandra Wilson, Lalah Hathaway, and Sabina Sciubba. The album is bound to challenge a good number of Ndegeocello's fans (particularly the ones with limited interest or familiarity with the form), but they needn't feel as if they're in over their heads. Little cracks in the bassist's past work have opened up to be fully explored -- it's hardly a 180, with her warm, bobbing bass adaptable to any context. And since the album is split almost evenly between sprawling 12-minute pieces and song-based material, it's liable to please both sides in some measure. Compared to Ndegeocello's past albums, Dance of the Infidel isn't as enveloping or moving (a couple spells are particularly dry, and many will miss not hearing the bassist's vocals), but it's full of bright colors, and not without its pleasures. As always, wondering where she'll take you next is part of the fun. ~ Andy Kellman

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