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Nina Simone, Etta James, Live


Nina Simone & Etta James THE MONTREUX YEARS. BMG



Nina Simone THE MONTREUX YEARS (2 Vinyl Edition 180g plus exclusive liner notes and previously unseen photography)

If there was ever a reason to invest in a decent turntable, this has to be it. To say I was surprised at the sound quality, the detail and the ambience of this edition’s reproduction grossly understates my observations. And this conclusion takes only minutes to arrive at with Simone’s introduction of Side A with a piano solo of ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’. It’s as though the lady is right there playing in front of you! Simone talks before playing a stunning version of ‘Backlash Blues’ accompanied by bass and drums to great effect. Hell! This is how live recorded performance should be. As I type, my feet are beating out the beat and believe it or not I’m bloody clapping… This is real music performed with verve, expression and commitment, which is rewarded by heavy applause from the assembled fans.

‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ opens with extended and perfect Simone piano intro, complete with improvised jazz moments, before that expressive and passionate vocal arrives with subtle asides, and a voice that travels the scale. The ending crescendo sees Simone making the political points to roars of approval. ‘See-Line Woman’ is a traditional blues derge with male backing vocals adding to the drama of the song. With only percussian under the vocals you can hear the audience clapping along with the driving rhythm. Wow!


Side B opens with Simone declaring that she will no longer do more jazz festivals after saying that she had not seen her fans since 1968. She then describes the song ‘Little Girl Blue (PT 1 & 2)’ which opens with passages from a well ‘Good King Wenceslas’, and opens out into the most tender and emotional vocal interpretation, with the most delicate piano playing. I have listened to much of what Simone has recorded but I feel I am actually really hearing her for the first time with this record…You have to hear this to understand this revelation.

Then the song from the first album she ever made called ‘Don’t Smoke In Bed’ which rolls gently along before one of my favourites arrive. ‘Stars’ was originally recorded at Montreux in 1976. It opens in contemplative vocal style with the most subtle accompanying piano notes. The pace is glacial, the performance compelling and deeply moving. Side C opens with the rampantly paced instrumental ‘African Mailman’ featuring fabulous drumming and percussion that are reproduced with amazing clarity, verve and excitement - one of the finest examples of the art I’ve heard for many years. Both myself and the audience are screaming and clapping along with the speeding and breathless rhythm. Extraordinary!! ‘Just In Time’ follows in distinctive and improvised Simone style. The side ends with the intro “These tracks are for the blacks in America…” to ‘Four Women’ and the classic ‘No Woman No Cry’ recorded in 1990.

Side D with Simone introducing the band to the cheering audience and explaining that she lived in Liberia for three years resulting in ‘Liberian Calypso’ with its dominating African vibe, and strong (encouraged) audience participation. One of my favourite songs of all time then follows in the form of Jaques Brel’s ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’. Simone’s interpretation in French of this desperate love song is sensitive, passionate and expressive. The record ends with another classic Simone song, ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ performed distinctly upbeat with the audience cheering every note. It’s a perfect ending to a unique, entertaining and inspiring live recording remastered superbly by Tony Cousins at Metropolis Mastering, London. I suspect that the CD versions also sound stunning. For me, I’ve really heard the lady for the first time in these glorious live recordings, and I wish she was still with us in these difficult times.


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