SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Nina Simone – Nina Live At The Village Gate – Colpix (1962)/ Pure Pleasure Records (vinyl)

The legendary jazz performer’s 1961 Village Gate set is brilliant.

Published on March 29, 2012

Nina Simone – Nina Live At The Village Gate – Colpix (1962)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2011) PPAN SCP 421 180gr audiophile stereo vinyl, 39:45 ****1/2:

(Nina Simone – piano, vocals; Al Schackman – guitar; Chris White – bass; Bob Hamilton – drums)

Eunice Kathleen Waymon (a.k.a. Nina Simone) did not seem destined to be the next great jazz/blues vocalist. She was a classical piano student, who did not get into Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music (an incident which sparked her predilection toward civil rights), but ended up at Juilliard in New York. Her lifetime appreciation of classical composers like Bach, Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert provided a formal background that made her comfortable with jazz, r&b, gospel and popular music of the day.

As the story goes, a demo led to a deal with Bethlehem Records. The stunning debut included a memorable version of “I Loves You Porgy” from the Gershwin musical. Later recordings of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “I Put A Spell On You” and “Wild Is The Wind” enhanced her reputation as a versatile and daring performer. Simone’s albums have been released continuously, long after her passage. She is revered among musicians in numerous genres.

Nina Live At The Village Gate is an unusual live set that showcases the vocal and instrumental talent of this performer. The opening track “Just In Time” (from the Broadway play, Bells Are Ringing) sets the tone for this unpredictable artist. With her vibrato-alto, Simone removes the song from its popular origins and reinvents it with an edgy interpretation. Unlike her peers, she is an adept musician, combining rhythmic chords and individual notation with forceful technique. Her timing is never interrupted by having to sing and play concurrently. The piano accompaniment of “He Was Good To Me” reflects the classical training as it complements the jazzy nuanced vocals. Simone expresses heartbreak with wistful agony. On the sole instrumental, “Bye Bye Blackbird”, the virtuosity is displayed with transitions from harmonic piano runs to syncopated Monk riffs. Her ability to blend with the rhythm section or lead the group is impressive. There is no doubt that the audience is enthralled by her.

More than stylized covers of standards, the album unleashes some unexpected gems. “House Of The Rising Sun” reverts to 3/4 time as a folk song. Guitarist Al Schackman offers a nimble solo that is contrasted by the ethereal arrangement. Subsequent renditions by Bob Dylan (who allegedly based his 1961 version on this one) and The Animals (with their organ-laden 1964 hit) followed her lead and brought the Appalachian standard into modern context. Known for her dedication to civil rights, a topical bluesy “Brown Baby” features gospel styling and “voice effects”.

Embracing the jazz culture’s awareness of African culture, “Zunga” is revelatory. A chant-based work song from West Africa, Simone pieces together a lighthearted piano intro before morphing into the steady pulse of the number. It is difficult to compare this singer with others. She is truly unique, like a “singing method actor”. Her spirituality is always on display, especially on tracks like “If He Changed My Name” and “Children Go Where I Send You”.

Nina Live At The Village Gate exudes a raw energy—partly due to the live, in-person vinyl sonics—that brings a definitive spotlight to a jazz pioneer.

Side 1: Just In Time; He Was Good To Me; House Of The Rising Sun; Bye Bye Blackbird
Side 2: Brown Baby; Zungo; If He Changed My Name; Children Go Where I Send You

—Robbie Gerson

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