Nina Simone spent time recording with Verve or the associated Philips during the mid-'60s, so her entry in the label's 2003 The Diva Series focuses on that period, when she had an R&B hit with "I Put a Spell on You" and recorded many live albums. Though it is much longer than Verve's previous attempts, it certainly doesn't qualify as a solid compilation of Simone's career. A few career-defining songs like "I Loves You, Porgy" are presented in live versions which, fine as they are, don't rate with the studio recordings. For what it is, The Diva Series is a solid label wrap-up, including rarer material like "Wild Is the Wind" as well as a few classics like "Mississippi Goddam" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
The Jazz Club series is an attractive addition to the Verve catalogue. With it's modern design and popular choice of repertoire, the Jazz Club is not only opened for Jazz fans, but for everyone that loves good music.
Nina Simone was one of the most gifted vocalists of her generation, and also one of the most eclectic. Simone was a singer, pianist, and songwriter who bent genres to her will rather than allowing herself to be confined by their boundaries; her work swung back and forth between jazz, blues, soul, classical, R&B, pop, gospel, and world music, with passion, emotional honesty, and a strong grasp of technique as the constants of her musical career.
Nina Simone was ignited by the civil rights movement, and her fed-up tirade "Mississippi Goddam" ("And I mean every word of it!" she testified before a New York crowd) surfaces on In Concert, an arresting 1964 album that also includes a stunningly theatrical version of Weil-Brecht-Blitzstein's "Pirate Jenny." The second portion of this two-fer presents the folk-jazz-soul diva backed by an orchestra. Not all of it works (less is almost always more where Simone arrangements are concerned, and Hal Mooney's are, often as not, too lush or too clamorous), but her dynamic version of "I Put a Spell on You" and the pensiveness she brings to Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" display the singer's versatility. With the inspired live set that anchors this collection, that's enough.
There's a lot more Broadway and a lot more ballads than blues on this, which ranks as one of Simone's weaker mid-'60s albums. Almost half the record features Broadway tunes on the order of Cole Porter and Rodgers & Hammerstein; most of the rest was composed by Bennie Benjamin, author of her first-rate "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," which the Animals covered for a hit shortly afterwards (and which leads off this record). The other Benjamin tunes are modified uptown soul with string arrangements and backup vocals in the vein of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," but aren't in the same league, although "How Can I?" is an engaging cha-cha. Besides "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," the album is most notable for the great "SeeLine Woman," a percolating call-and-response number that ranks as one of her best tracks.