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Bebop Spoken There

Frank Zappa: “Those kids [US students] wouldn't know music if it came up and bit 'em on the ass.” – (DownBeat October 3, 1969).

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Today Monday February 17

Afternoon

Jazz

Jazz in the Afternoon - Cullercoats Crescent Club, 1 Hudleston, Cullercoats NE30 4QS. Tel: 0191 253 0242. 1:00pm. Free admission.

Evening

?????

To the best of our knowledge, details of the above events are correct but may be subject to alteration.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

BBC Proms 45 – Mississippi Goddam: A homage to Nina Simone @ Royal Albert Hall - August 21

Metropole Orkest conducted by Jules Buckley; Lisa Fischer, Ledisi  (vocals); LaSharVu (backing vocals)
(Review by Leah Williams.)

A homage to Nina Simone – where do you even start? From young piano virtuoso to civil rights activist to ‘The High Priestess of Soul’, Nina Simone is a figure whose talent, raw life experience and unflinching determination has given her an appeal that crosses the boundaries of geography, race and time.

From the opening notes of the instrumental medley of African Mailman and Sinnerman, it was clear that Nina’s distinct style and infectious rhythms would be given their due. The Netherlands-based Metropole Orkest is a symphony orchestra with an integrated big band who play across the jazz, pop, world and film music genres. It’s immediately obvious that they are the right musicians for the job and, under the baton of Brit Jules Buckley, their mastery of and enthusiasm for the excellent arrangements of Simone’s songs was quite outstanding. From lush strings to unique rhythms to solo improvisations, every musician contributed to capturing the jaunty, sultry and severe edges of her music.

The orchestra were joined onstage by backing vocalists LeSharVu and soloists Lisa Fischer and Ledisi. They all played their part in bringing depth and authenticity to the music and were incredibly generous with their voices, spirits and emotions.

Although both have different vocal styles from Nina Simone’s somehow throwaway yet emotionally charged sound, Lisa and Ledisi were excellent choices as soloists. Lisa has an enchanting richness and maturity in her voice that lulls you into its embrace then surprises you with an unexpected vocal line or phrasing. Ledisi was quite clearly overjoyed to be there and this unbridled enthusiasm shone out and evoked a certain wildness and raw energy. Together they represented well the different facets of Simone’s character and sound, with their respective musical numbers well chosen.

Two ballads, Plain Gold Ring and Little Girl Blue (which was dedicated to Simone’s granddaughter who was apparently in the audience), followed the instrumental intro and were executed well. But it was with those immediately recognisable opening notes of My Baby Just Cares for Me that the concert really began to swing. And it didn’t let up for a single moment after that. If anything, the musicians seemed to take it up another notch after the interval. Pianist Hans Vroomans opened up the second half with a piano solo full of a personality, grace and virtuosity that seemed to bring Simone back to life.

One particularly haunting and emotive moment came in the form of an evocative, rich and desperate portrayal of Dambala by Lisa Fischer. The moment where the vocals became almost a cry of anguish as the full orchestra swept in will not be easily forgotten.

There was a good representation of music from across Simone’s career, but with the concert named ‘Mississippi Goddam’ there was of course an emphasis on the music she made as she grappled with injustice and inequality and became more and more engaged with the civil rights movement. Simone said that “an artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times” and this sold out Prom showed just how important she was as a voice of her time – but also one that still rings clear today. 

No moment showed this better than in that powerhouse title track of Mississippi Goddam, where Ledisi took some artistic liberty with the lyrics at the end to include a well-received dig at Donald Trump, followed up with:

“Let’s all give it up for Nina Simone right now. I think if she was here she’d be cussing everybody out saying ‘what’s wrong with y’all, when are you going to get it together?’”

Ledisi also finished up the programme, with a stripped-back a cappella version of a spiritual song Simone often sang leading straight into the powerful lyrics of Simone’s well-known version of I Wish I Knew How (It Would Feel to Be Free).

This would have been a strong enough ending on its own but, of course, the audience wanted more and there was one song everyone had been waiting to hear. What else but Feeling Good could have been the encore? Holding absolutely nothing back and leaving nothing behind, the orchestra and vocalists came together one final time to truly encapsulate and celebrate the legendary persona and music of Nina Simone.

Leah

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