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Nina Simone - Remixed and Reimagined Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    8
sound:    6
release year:    2006
label:    Columbia/Legacy
reviewed by:    John Sutton-Smith

ImageNina Simone was a jazz and blues singer of deep political and cultural import. The command, conviction and honesty in her music were undeniable, and as a pianist, arranger and composer she defied facile classification. Perhaps the most telling example of the extraordinary depth and breadth of her inspiration and influence today is the sheer number of considerations, appreciations and re-workings of her recordings that have been produced since her passing even more so, that these projects have been validated as serious and worthy explorations of Simone’s work, as opposed to unseemly posthumous exploitation.

Though dubbed the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone was not fond of the title, refusing to be pigeonholed and often accusing critics of racism for labeling her a “jazz” or a “soul” artist. She died in 2003 just as a new generation of fans came to appreciate her, and since then her remarkable catalogue has been reborn in major film soundtracks, award-winning TV shows, high-end commercials and even video games.

Verve’s exemplary series of remixes examined the sphere of Nina in a remarkable and illuminating fashion – in a series of three fine albums, and recently combined into a worthy box collection. Legacy Recordings has been strip-mining the RCA catalogue while they can, so it is with some trepidation that one approaches yet another set of Nina remixes, this time from that label’s latter-day vaults. They’ve teamed up with producer Scott Schlachter for this collection of disco and club remixes. Simone’s powerful musical sensibility can withstand and even be nourished by endless examinations, and Nina Simone: Remixed and Reimagined is testimony to that power and a period in the ‘70s when she was championed in large part by a gay, cross-cultural subculture that embraced her music and her message. Nina recorded nine albums and some of her most popular songs during this time, including her interpretation of “Ain’t Got No/I Got Life” from the ‘60s musical Hair (hit #2 on the UK charts) and her gorgeous version of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” (which stayed in the Top 10 for much of 1969), are included here. Both Groovefinder’s big beat remix of “Ain’t Got No …,” which itself went Top 30 in the UK recently, and Chris Coco’s take on “… Somebody” look back on an era when the dance beat itself became political statement.

The saying about when the sauce is good, the meal will be great applies here – when the sauce is Nina, the remixes are likely to be fine. She is not only the source of great music, but her music – maybe it’s in the vocal – is the source of great influence. And the young mixers here have been attentive and obedient students.

Most notably, Coldcut’s reconstruction of “Save Me,” the Nickodemus mix of “O-o-oh Child” and Francois K’s nuanced, electro-jazz take of “Here Comes the Sun” add cadence and character to the sphere of Simone. Dance pop duo Madison Park and house mixer Lenny B collaborate on a sensual re-imagining of “The Look of Love,” and DJ Logic transforms Simone’s “Obeah Woman” into a rousing, tribal incantation.

Other tracks are not so successful, sometimes forcing club beats into Nina’s soulful syncopations and turning finesse and grace into grinding dance floor fodder. At the end of the day, however, Nina was as big an influence for a while on the gay, bi-racial, borderless demimonde of the disco dance floor as she was on the worlds of jazz and blues, pop and soul, race relations and feminism, politics and poetry. This set notes a certain time and place and Simone’s pivotal role in that.

With a myriad of the cream of contemporary club and house mixers – names include Coldcut, Nickodemus, Groovefinder, Madison Park & Lenny B, Chris Coco, DJ Logic, Francóis K, Tony Humphries, Mocean Worker and Organica – the premise here is clear, loud, incessant and unmistakable. Let’s dance! And basically, let’s disco. You either get it or you don’t, but if you’re a disco fan, then Nina Simone is at least a step in the right direction.

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