Meshell Nedegeocello

Meshell Nedegeocello, Jazz Cafe, Camden, London, 31-03-09

It was hard to know what the mostly middle class mixed audience expected of Meshell Ndegeocello's second consecutive Jazz Cafe gig - sensual musings, gently delivered political rhetoric, hard and heavy jazz, dub reggae or funk. Whatever the expectations, she met them all with a glorious style.

Taking the stage with an understated entrance, almost hidden among her band, she slipped into songs from her 2007 release, The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams, without fanfare. With the crowd already enthralled she barely needed to dip into her not inconsiderable musical canon to keep our eyes wide open. Her thoughts, lyrical and verbal, muse on larger topics - faith, science, politics, love - but it's her strident yet unthreatening persona that allows her the space with her audience to gently push her opinions. She bemoaned not being able to join the G20 protests then added with a wink 'Sorry, I'll be in sunny Barcelona tomorrow'. The important comment with the throwaway tag was a recurring theme throughout. The English have a peculiar attitude to emotional resonance at musical events. You can tell it in your lyrics but don't stand there between songs harping on about politics. In America such openness is greeted with heart beating sincerity from the audience but here there's very much a 'get on with it' vibe. If we want to find meaning we will find it ourselves, not be told where it is. But if it's done with grace and charm you can navigate around that English cynicism and Meshell knew the game.

Even then, with eyes firmly on current material, there's room for the odd look over the shoulder, with Faithful, from 1999's magical Bitter, a highlight. But the star of the night was the music, more so than theme or voice. The assembled musicians were of a standard one doesn't usually see. The nearest comparison is to a recent Herbie Hancock show at the Barbican, such was the level of musical ESP at both that show and last night.

The band weaved seamlessly in both genre and tempo, dropping and picking up cues and time signatures - bassist Mark Kelley would play around Meshell's bass, creating the unlikely effect of two basses being not too much for the small room. She allowed him space to shine, with her contributions only intermittent but crucial. Keyboardist Jason Lindner was somewhat lost among his collection of electronica and didn't add a great deal but guitarist Chris Bruce created flawless sounds that danced around the harder edges. Perhaps the star of the show was the staggering Deantoni Parks, once the touring drummer for The Mars Volta. Even a short break following his literal destruction of the bass drum added to, rather than derailed, the proceedings. An easy mood pervaded both band and audience.

After a breathless encore and heartfelt thanks she was gone. You were left with the the thoughts of her eternally curious mind and the powerful elan of her musicians