Nina Simone – Forbidden Fruit – Colpix Records (1961)/Pure Pleasure Records (2012) PPAN SCP 419 – double audiophile stereo vinyl, *****:
(Nina Simone – piano; vocals; Al Schakman – guitar; Chris White – bass; Bob Hamilton – drums)
Nina Simone established a special prominence among female jazz singers. Like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, she was admired by fans, critics and jazz musicians. Unlike her counterparts, she was a gifted instrumentalist and accompanied herself on piano. With an innate talent for musical arrangement and theory (from classical training), she commanded respect from labels. Simone was able to exercise artistic freedom over commercial projects. This was unique for a female jazz singer.
After being signed to Colpix Records, her stature began to expand, and her catalogue reflected confidence and focus. Pure Pleasure Records has re-issued Forbidden Fruit (1961) on two discs. The first LP is the original recording. Simone explores an interesting range of love songs. Side One kicks off with a trio of blues interpretations. “Rags And Old Iron” introduces Simone’s impeccable contralto in a deeply shaded blues format. Gritty lyrics and soulful vocal essence meshes with the unconventional waltz time. The album has a “live” feel to it. “No Good Man” is jazzier with some vampy piano riffs and throaty singing. Simone gets down and dirty on the up tempo “Gin House Blues”. Shifting to melancholic balladry, she is not shy about taking on a Billie Holiday number (“I’ll Look Around”) with an instinctive, nuanced phrasing (and vocal note sustain). The backup instruments are minimal, but frame the songs effectively.
Side Two opens with a forceful rendition of Nat Adderley’s “Work Song”. Simone is a rare singer whose voice is essentially an instrument. On the Peggy Lee co-written ballad, “Where Can I Go Without You”, she uses a slight vibrato and an emotional lilt. Taking on the laconic, Southern vibe, “Memphis In June” (another Hoagy Carmichael gem) has a laid back elegance. Two tracks underscore Simone’s piano versatility. “Just Say I Love Him” utilizes a classical piano introduction to transform an Italian “crooner” tune. The final cut is a rollicking gospel-flavored rendition of the title track. Muscular piano chords with a call and response chorus produce a wild ride.
The second LP is anything but filler. Delving into both traditional and eclectic songbooks, a generous collection of eleven songs are given new life. Among these include an update of the previously recorded, “Porgy I Is Your Woman Now” which expresses the Gershwin eloquence with nimble flourishes on piano. Whether it’s Broadway (“Spring Is Here”, “Baubles, Bangles And Beads”) or purer traditional pieces (“Lonesome Valley”, Od Yesh Homa”) Simone resurrects the essence of the composition. She stretches out on vocals with higher-register (including some falsetto) in a haunting adaptation of Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”. Her swing cover of “Try A Little Tenderness” reshapes the ballad arrangement that future stars like Otis Redding would pursue.
Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered this recording with artistic commitment. The mix is balanced and vocals are centered. The “raw” sound of the instruments is captured. Also, the glossy packaging and gatefold sleeves are first-rate, with informative liner notes (David Nathan).
Forbidden Fruit is a must for jazz fans and audiophiles!
Side 1: Rags And Old Iron; No Good Man; Gin House Blues; I’ll Look Around; I Love To Love;
Side 2: Work Song; Where Can I Go Without You; Just Say I Love Him; Memphis In June; Forbidden Fruit
Side 3: Porgy I Is Your Woman Now; Baubles Bangles And Beads; Gimme A Pigfoot; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; Spring Is Here; Lonesome Valley
Side 4: Golden Earrings; My Ship; ‘Taint Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do; Try A Little Tenderness; Od Yesh Homa
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a live duo performance by Archie Shepp.