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Blog // Sounds
March 8, 2010

Nina Simone Remembered

The 2010 Hong Kong Arts Festival is underway and, as in previous years, I will be blogging my way through various events. First up was Sing The Truth: Nina Simone Remembered; a concert showcasing four great vocalists, Lizz Wright, Simone (Nina Simone’s daughter), Patti Austin and Dianne Reeves, singing material made famous by the great […]

The 2010 Hong Kong Arts Festival is underway and, as in previous years, I will be blogging my way through various events.

First up was Sing The Truth: Nina Simone Remembered; a concert showcasing four great vocalists, Lizz Wright, Simone (Nina Simone’s daughter), Patti Austin and Dianne Reeves, singing material made famous by the great songstress.

The format brought each singer out for two songs, followed by an intermission. Then the pattern was repeated before all four ladies came out together for an encore.

Lizz Wright was the first to take the stage. Her beauty, grace and warmth seduced the audience with a poise that was natural and assured. She had, perhaps the most beautiful tunes of the night, including “Images” and “Lilac Wine.”

Simone was born for the the stage, with a lithe and feline presence belying real power and dynamism. She clearly loves being on in front of an audience and was equally at home with cabaret theatricality and the solitary cry of the torch song.

Patti Austin, by contrast was a study in subtlety. Her rendition of Young Gifted and Black,” was one of the highlights of the night and an important reminder of the connection between Nina Simone’s work and the civil rights movement.

Dianne Reeves brought power and feminine zeal to the night, channelling the soul of blues and gospel music as well the foot-stomping delight of the dance-hall. Her rendition of “I Put A Spell On You” was the most powerful number of the evening and was met with vociferous applause.

That it took four such talented and diverse women to pay tribute to Nina Simone speaks to the breadth and depth of her talent and repertoire.

An added depth of connection came from the backing band, made up mostly of musicians who had played with Simone, like Al Schackman (musical director, guitar, vibraphone and harmonica), Paul Robinson (drums) and Leopoldo Fleming (percussion). They were supported by Jeremy Berlin (piano) and Lonnie Plaxico (bass).

Nina Simone died in 2003, after a long illness and in relative obscurity. However, her legacy always remained alive in the hearts of fellow musicians along with lovers of jazz and soul music. So, it was wonderful to see a warm and receptive Hong Kong crowd respond to this fine concert, especially as so many in the audience would not have been old enough to remember Nina Simone in her prime. The woman may no longer be with us, but her musical spirit lives on in a powerful way.

Responses
Spike 13 years ago

A new bio of Nina Simone, Princess Noire, was published in the US last month. Review here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/books/review/Kelley-t.html

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Challenging review of what might be a shallow biography. There is a lot about Nina Simone I don’t really understand, including her state of mind in the last season of her life. For me her best recordings are stunning and I’ve worked with people older than me who revere her deeply. However, there are certainly examples of her later work that I don’t enjoy listening to at all.

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