There’s a method to her creative madness, says former Bay Area resident Meshell Ndegeocello, whose projects range from covering work by Prince and Gil Scott-Heron to the new album “Pour une Ame Souveraine (For a Sovereign Soul) — A Dedication to Nina Simone.” It’s all about casual confidence. “I don’t want to be this jazz musician who thinks everything I fart out is super-special,” says the bassist. “And I don’t want to be a pop musician, where how you dress and everything about you is on display. My attitude is, ‘Let’s just go out and play, have a good time and see where we get to.’ I even appreciate a heckler every now and then!”
How did you first get into Nina Simone?
In the early ’90s, I’d just gotten to New York, and a friend of mine played her for me. And I’d never heard anyone with such an amazing voice like that. And her music has a really heavy vibe — sometimes too heavy.
But why an entire Simone covers set?
It was totally Toshi Reagon — she was doing this “Women in Jazz” series in Harlem, and I chose to focus on Nina Simone. And then everyone asked me, “Hey, are you going to record this?” So it took on a life of its own, and we recorded it in just six days.
How did you rope Sinead O’Connor into doing “Don’t Take All Night” with you?
I did a performance with her in Australia and we just got along really well. I think she’s an icon herself — probably one of our greatest living singers. But I featured her because I just needed to make these songs sound like I heard them in my head.
How do you approach a classic such as “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”?
I think everyone in that room that was playing all had their own relationships with that song and Nina Simone, and we came at it with all the little aspects of it that we’d heard and loved in the past. But we just modernized it and made it our own.
A tribute album makes sense. It can’t be easy to write an original song these days, right?
Not to be a Bible-thumper, but there really is nothing new under the sun. So I’m just trying to play well, sing well, surround myself with other good players, and hopefully when people spend $15 to see me, they’ll say “I heard some good music, I had a couple of beers with my friends, and I had a good time.” And maybe those simple pleasures will have great value for some.