As an introduction to the music of Nina Simone, this is a well compiled album, taking material mainly from the fruitful Colpix / Verve / Phillips periods of the mid-60s and covering all aspects of her work.
Her jazz credentials, never in doubt, are evident on Love Me Or Leave Me, Don’t Explain, Work Song and an unusually arranged version of Ellington’s Mood Indigo. The more folksy Black Is The Colour, Jacques Brel’s torch song Ne Me Quitte Pas, her big hit I Loves You Porgy and the show songs Ain’t Got No – I Got Life (from Hair) and Feeling Good (from Bricusse / Newley’s Roar Of The Greasepaint – The Smell Of The Crowd) show the range of her repertoire. How she would work and energise a number is seen in the dynamism and call and response of Sinnerman, See Line Woman and Mississippi Goddam; the last, like Strange Fruit, is a forceful socio-political statement.
But for sheer excitement and power, the big production numbers with full brass arrangements and soaring strings of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Feeling Good and I Put A Spell On You take some beating. The jury’s still out on the identity of the saxophonist on Spell – Buddy Lucas, Jerome Richardson, King Curtis? Answers on a postcard please…
Of the supporting musicians, her regulars are in attendance – bassist Lisle Atkinson, drummer Bobby Hamilton and guitarists Rudy Stevenson and Al Shackman, the latter in great interaction with Simone’s piano on Wild Is The Wind. My Baby Just Cares For Me is from an earlier trio session (1957) with Jimmy Bond and Al Heath. All wonderful and essential listening, not least for Simone’s underrated playing.
For those who already have her recordings, completists might be interested in the remixes. Are they included to give contemporary relevance? Continued respect for the artist? Been raiding grandparents’ record collection? Your call. A bit of unravelling: numbers are covered by DJs Joel Corry, Riton (Henry Smithson), Floorplan (Robert Hood), drum & bass band Rudimental, electronic band Hot Chip and duos Honne and Sofi Tukker (no link to the Last of the Red Hot Mamas). These vary in their style and method, although dominance of bass and disco beat are recurring features. Fine line between mesmeric and relentless monotony? House and techno not up your street? I have reservations and can’t help wondering why the producers bothered, but have to admit liking the raunchiness of Hot Chip’s Be My Husband and the tightly muted trumpet on Rudimental’s tango-inflected Take Care Of Business, but then, I’m old-fashioned.
On a more positive note, it’s a timely issue to coincide with Apphia Campbell’s Black Is The Colour Of My Voice, starring Florence Odumosu, and inspired by Simone, touring the UK until 2 April.
CD1: Feeling Good; My Baby Just Cares For Me; I Put A Spell On You; Sinnerman; Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair; See-Line Woman; Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; Ain’t Got No – I Got Life; Lilac Wine; Ne Me Quitte Pas; Love Me Or Leave Me; Don’t Explain; Mississippi Goddam (51.51)
CD2: Strange Fruit; Wild Is The Wind; Work Song; I Loves You Porgy; Mood Indigo; Take Care Of Business; Feeling Good – Joel Corry Remix; See-Line Woman – Riton Remix; Sinnerman – Sofi Tukker Remix; My Baby Just Cares For Me – Honne Remix; Take Care Of Business – Rudimental Remix; I Put A Spell On You – Floorplan Remix; Be My Husband – Hot Chip Remix. (55.25)
Simone (v, p) with various orchestras and Rudy Stevenson (g, f); Al Shackman (g); Lisle Atkinson (b); Bobby Hamilton (d); Jimmy Bond (b); Albert Heath (d); Gene Taylor (b); Buck Clarke (d). 1957-1968. Remixes probably late 2021, although no details.