Live at Ronnie Scott's

Stereo Review
Chrisy Albertson, 1986

Nina Simone originally made her mark with a Bethlehem single that, after some twenty-five years, remains the definitive jazz vocal of Gershwin's I Loves You, Porgy.  The success of that recording pulled Simone into the international limelight from the obscurity of a not so glamorous piano gig in an Atlantic City gay bar.  Then, for a handful of years, while she enjoyed immense popularity, she exhibited an unpropitious inclination to offend her audiences verbally.  As her comportment became increasingly antagonistic, fans and bookers alike began to withdraw.  Now Simone is re-emerging and, in the process, demonstrating the durability of her talent.  Her performances still convey a certain degree of hostility, but when she focuses soley on the music, the results can be rewarding. 

"Nina Simone at Ronnie Scott's' is an imported videocassette containing an hour of music and talk by the onetime "High Priestess of Soul.'  Among the thirteen selections is the Gershwin song that started it all for her as well as other material from Simone's heyday, most notably the once-winning combination of Moon of Alabama, from the Brecht-Weill Mahagonny, and her own Mississippi Goddam.  This was powerful stuff twenty years ago, but, while the civil-rights struggle certainly continues, the medley has lost its impact--a loss compounded by Simone's apathetic, let's-get-it-over-with delivery.  Other songs fare much better.  The Other Woman, I Sing Just to Know I'm Alive, and If You Knew are sterling reminders of the emotional power that won the singer a loyal following in the Sixties. 

Visually, the recording looks as if it had been taped with a bargain-basement camera and barely available light.  Granted, it is often difficult to light a live performance properly without scaring away the club's patrons, but here even the interview segments--which were conducted without an audience-- look dismal.  The audio is mono but acceptable.