Rhythm & Views

Meshell Ndegeocello

Sometimes you just wish Meshell Ndegeocello would play a song that has an identifiable instrumental melody, but the last thing she's about is conventional song forms.

On her latest album, the multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter emphasizes groove, bottom and hooks, but she seems to be able to work endlessly inventive results from her musical alchemy. She also weaves some spellbinding vocals that wrestle with such subjects as spirituality and religion, redemption, evolution, sexuality, self-image and politics, as well as outer and inner space. It's a heady and potentially pretentious combination, but Ndegeocello grounds it in a strong sense of personality and those insistent grooves.

Her new album is something of a "stone soup" affair. She is ably assisted in her funk-soul pursuits by an assortment of jazz all-stars, including saxophonist Oliver Lake, pianist Robert Glasper, guitarists Brandon Ross and Pat Metheny, cornetist Graham Haynes and flutist James Newton.

Lake contributes some amazing shards of alto sax soloing to "Virgo," but most surprising is Newton, who escorts "Lovely Lovely" with some not-cloying flute

"Relief: A Stripper Classic" is an achingly naked plea for intimacy and kindness after beauty fades, the drugs and alcohol run out and we've exhausted our exercises in tawdry human game-playing. It's a touching finish to a challenging album.