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Heart Of Darkness
on 30 March 2007
Nina Simone recorded many landmark albums during her long career, and this, from her stint at RCA (68-74), is certainly one of them.
"And Piano!" does exactly what it says on the tin: it consists of Nina's vocals (that deep, haunting voice) and her classicaly-trained, often angular piano playing, with only a few overdubs stategically added.
Despite its simplicity,it is no easy album; it will take you at least five listens before you can control the emotional pull that this music exerts. Yet when you are past that phase, you will only have to marvel at the dark beauty of this work; the whole album is in fact a meditation on human destiny and failure, with only rare glimpses of hope and redemption. All this is understandable, as it was recorded after the end of Nina's relationship with Andy Stroud, her husband and manager, who apparently left her running away with much of her money, just to add insult to injury.
As is often the case with Simone's albums there are no original songs, but the way she covers/rearranges the material makes it entirely her own. Try, for instance, the devastating take on "The Desperate Ones" by Jacques Brel or the softly whispered "I Get Along Without You Very Well" - the sound of a soul slowly disintegrating in spring rain - and you will have heard some of the most subtle vocal interpretations ever recorded in jazz or any other genres you may care to mention.
This could be repeated for any track here, but "And Piano!" also contains a little test that everyone should take to check one's own level of humanity: if the shift from bleak despair to gospel-tinged hope in "Another Spring" leaves you cold and indifferent, then you should feel your pulse and start thinking of moving to another planet, because you are probably NOT HUMAN. But if something happens to you (tears, gasping for air, the like), then you will know for sure that Nina Simone has entered your soul, and that she will remain there forever.