Like her new album “Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape” (Maverick), Meshell Ndegeocello’s performance is a study in contradictions. As turbulent and unpredictable as a storm system, the music has a slow motion drama that feels like fronts clashing: simultaneously humid and airy, spacey and grounded, dreamy and funky. She doesn’t so much write songs as atmospheres, with woozy textures and roiling rhythms.
A powerful bassist, on this tour, she only intermittently picks up her instrument, concentrating instead on her deep, chanted vocals that limn a minefield where the romantic and commercial both hold sway. “You sell your soul like you sell your ass,” she sings at one point.
With her six-piece band she creates a seductive mood, the instruments not so much locking into rhythms as indicating them, producing a jazzy wash of sound that’s less clotted than Miles Davis’ early ’70s work such as “Big Fun” or “On the Corner.” A choked, skeletal James Brown guitar drives “God Fear Money,” “Pocketbook” has the chunky asymmetry of dub reggae, and the skittish rhythms of “Earth” find their fulcrum in Oliver Gene Lake’s restrained drumming.
It takes a great deal of talent to make such controlled music that sounds like it is teetering on the verge of chaos. But with a Zen-like calm, Ndegeocello embraces both extremes, finding a hypnotic soulfulness in the balance.