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Meshell Ndegeocello "The Omnichord Real Book"

Updated: Sep 25, 2023


Meshell Ndegeocello's "The Omnichord Real Book" is a genre-hopping tour de force that spans from synthpop to electronic R&B, reflecting the artist's unique blend of spacious melodies, rooted grooves, and intricate fingerpicking. The expansive Blue Note debut showcases Ndegeocello's unique style, cultivated over the past three decades in collaboration with a diverse array of artists, from Madonna to Herbie Hancock and Robert Glasper​.


The album represents a confident imagining of her infectious future funk sound, with a futuristic and original soundscape that includes jaunty synthpop and electronic R&B. The album is anchored by Ndegeocello's punchy bass playing, lending consistency to her genre-hopping palette. It features various guest artists, with each contributing to the overall energy and dynamic range of the album. However, certain tracks like "Call the Tune" and "Oneelevensixteen" may leave the listener wanting more, as they are tantalisingly brief and sketch-like​.


The Omnichord Real Book, by Ndegeocello's own admission, is her most authentic and personal album to date, reflecting her deep personal experiences and emotions, particularly following the passing of her parents. The album title references a volume of lead sheets common in jazz circles, a book that her father, a military jazz musician, had passed onto her. The omnichord, a handheld digital harp, represents her transition from electronic music production to a more traditional jazz landscape​​.


The album is rich with interpretations, blending diverse genres from soul and hip hop to afrobeat. It is a testament to Ndegeocello's versatility and commitment to breaking free from the rigid forms of jazz standards. The Omnichord Real Book also showcases Ndegeocello's deep investment in integrating traditional jazz modes through collaborations with artists like pianist Jason Moran, harpist Brandee Younger, and vibraphonist Joel Ross​​.


Despite being dense, the album aims for an afro-futuristic approach reminiscent of Sun Ra, built on an approachable melodic foundation. Ndegeocello explores different eras of black music, from the funky Sly Stone-inspired "Clear Water" to the South African revolutionary jazz era on the intense "Vuma" featuring Johannesburg vocalist Thandiswa. As an experienced multi-instrumentalist, Ndegeocello shares the spotlight and writing credits, allowing her collaborators to shine. The album condenses her struggles into meditative lyrics and perspectives from fictional characters, embodying the essence of jazz in its purest and most unadulterated form​​.


"The Omnichord Real Book" is a masterful, genre-bending piece that encapsulates Ndegeocello's diverse musical influences, personal experiences, and unwavering commitment to musical innovation. It's a testament to Ndegeocello's stature as a neo-soul heavyweight and a very solid start to her tenure at Blue Note.


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