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Nina Simone
Live at Montreux 1976

Nina Simone Live at Montreux 1976
Eagle Vision
2005 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 111 min. / Street Date September 19, 2006 / 14.98
Starring Nina Simone
Produced by Claude Nobs
Directed by Thierry Amsallem

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Nina Simone Live at Montreux 1976 is an excellent opportunity to get a closer in-concert look at this fascinating performer, known as the High Priestess of Soul and the Queen of African Rooted Classical Music. Ms. Simone's fans know her life story by heart -- she began as a poor North Carolina girl, trained at Julliard in New York and became a singing sensation in the late 50s with a classy repertoire ranging from opera to jazz standards to folk and pop songs. Her performances have a relaxed and improvised feel. She's known for uniquely personal timing choices and for punctuating her songs with telling pauses.

The 'class' in Class Act always described Nina Simone. Poet Langston Hughes wrote songs for her, and she dedicated much of her 1960s repertoire to the Civil Rights movement. When she recorded pop material by Dylan or George Harrison, or songs from musicals, they were like no other cover version.

Montreaux is a Swiss jazz festival begun in 1967. This 1976 appearance is one of Nina Simone's first after returning from Africa. She had left the United States in 1974, fed up with the music business and racism. She lived for three years in Liberia, an experience that influenced her later stage shows.

Ms. Simone's set will surprise fans that have followed only her jazz records. The songs include some blues numbers but eventually swing toward her African discoveries. She stands by her piano silent and intimidating for quite a while after the applause has died down, sitting to play only when the audience is absolutely still. After the first song her voice microphone refuses to stay in place, prompting a showdown with a stagehand that happily ends up with her smiling -- momentarily walking away from the piano in frustration -- but smiling.

The final 1976 piece is a monologue in which Simone slowly coaxes a Sengalese drummer out of the audience. She continually asks the audience if they've been to Africa and laments the bad organization behind the evening, but we wonder if she's making up the 'previous arrangements' that have let her down. Yet, when Nina sashays across the floor in response to the percussion, it's obvious that she's having a fine time.

The disc then jumps ahead, first eleven years and then fourteen years, to more live performances that are listed as 'bonus tracks.' Ms. Simone is older and heavier but just as hearty. The added tracks lend a wider variety to the disc.

Nina Simone sometimes called herself the last of the 'Griots', defined as a West African poet, singer and musician. As an aside during her Montreaux set, she tells the audience that "I'm not a singer, I'm a pianist", and proceeds to open a song by burning up the keyboard with some swift classical chords.

The songs:

1976: Little Girl Blue; Backlash Blues; Be My Husband; I Wish I Knew (How it Would Feel to Be Free); Stars/Feelings; African Mailman.
1987: Someone to Watch Over Me; My Baby Just Cares for Me.
1990: I Loves You Porgy; Liberian Caypso; Four Women/Mississippi Goddam; Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don't Leave Me).

Eagle Eye's DVD of Nina Simone Live at Montreux 1976 is a quality video recording that either had few flaws when new or has been carefully restored. Camera coverage of the live performance is better than adequate and we never feel the camera view has been slighted, even when Ms. Simone wanders around the small stage during her monologue. The Montreaux Casino performance has a fine, intimate feel, and the two later concerts are less polished but still adequate.

The audio is billed as being in Dolby 5.1. and sounds just fine. Considering the year of the recording it's almost surely been reprocessed and comes off clear and sharp in the home video arena. No complaints there. Michael Heatley provides good liner notes on a paper insert, which also lists a number of other attractive-sounding Montreaux performance videos.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Nina Simone Live at Montreux 1976 rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 3, 2006

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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