NINA SIMONE / “Funkier than A Mosquitos Tweeter 3 (Jazzeems All Styles Remix)”
BoL started-up in June 2005, there’s been a lot of music in the cyberspace since then. When Mtume and I started we had no preconceptions about which artists we would feature. From week to week we seldom know what’s coming next…that’s part of the reason we are able to continue without becoming bored. Not long ago, Mtume remarked to me how much Nina Simone music we have featured. I agreed. More than any other artist. That was surprising but true. Which brings me to this week (and to maybe next week or the week after)—there’s a bunch of “new” and “previously unreleased” Nina Simone coming out. Nina Simone. I would never have thunk it. Not that she doesn’t deserve to be number uno, it’s just that even in her heyday she wasn’t at the top of the charts. Her work was too quirky, her personality so mercurial, you just never knew what to expect, or more precisely, you picked up a record or went to a concert expecting to witness the unexpected. Verve Music has a contemporary project of remix albums (they’re on number three or number four in the series). Pre-existing music is handed over to producers to come up with contemporary mixes. Nina is included on those releases. Also there have been tribute albums for a number of artists: from Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye to Curtis Mayfield and the Isley Brothers. I’m not certain, but Nina may be the first female artist to get the album-length remix/remake treatment. I’m a huge Nina Simone fan; my admiration is quasi-religious. And because her music parallels my life, I have an affection for the originals that is deeper than logic, some of her sounds can not be separated from the plasma of my being, the synapses of my mind’s inner workings. She is the spark that connects thoughts to feelings. For me, her recordings are pretty close to sacred texts. So when I heard about this Remixed and Reimagined project, and especially after hearing the four or five Verve remixes, I was hoping for the best but prepared for the worse—both my optimism and pessimism were fulfilled. Four or five of the 13 tracks are utterly forgettable, but overall, it’s a good release. If you think of this as a new Nina Simone record, it ranks in the upper half of her prodigious output—not quite top drawer, but a long way from the bottom. One of the tracks, “Funkier than A Mosquito’s Tweeter 3 (Jazzeems All Styles Remix),” is absolutely superb, and “Obeah Woman (DJ Logic Remix),” is not too far behind. The difference is this: whereas “Obeah” is a great remix, “Tweeter” is more than a great remix, it is a total reimagining that retains the spirit of Nina Simone but presents it as though Nina recorded it last month. The album contains thirteen remixes; I’ve chosen four that I like and a fifth that is a variation on one of the tracks on the album but which was not included on the album. I’ve also included four of the original tracks that were remixed. I think the release would have been a monster-piece had Sony made it a two-CD release and included Nina’s originals on the second CD, which is what 4Hero did for two of their remix projects. "Obeah Woman" is tres interesting because of the distance between the original, which is almost entirely a voice-and-light-percussion workout, and the remix, which goes to great lengths to highlight its electronic nature and even adds an organ riff. Which is best? I end up liking whichever one I’m listening to at the time. To me, it’s a true toss-up. “My Man’s Gone Now,” the Gershwin blues-ballad from Porgy & Bess, is a duck in and out of water. The original is swimming in the water, bottoms up diving deep into the sadness of abandonment; nobody, absolutely nobody does sad shit better than Nina Simone. And she moans the hell out of this on the original. There’s something ungainly about the remix, like a duck waddling down a country road, but at the same time there is something almost hypnotic about the oscillating heavy backbeat remix that has nothing to do with the song itself in terms of meaning and lyrics, but which just sort of works as a mid-tempo dance floor piece. I still easily prefer the original, yet I admit the remix works as club music rather than as music to seriously listen to. And just as a trivia note: I don’t recall any Nina originals that featured a trumpet (other than a track from the Ellington-tribute record), so I was bemused to hear the trumpet crackle a short interlude. The remix of the Aretha Franklin hit “Save Me” works better than Nina’s original take. You don’t even begin to think of Aretha when you hear the remix, plus Nina’s voice is wonderfully highlighted. Also, the electronic percussion really works (it’s those filters and using Nina’s voice as background). A compelling offering, especially the layering of Nina’s voice on-top itself. Good remix. Then there’s the tour-de-force of “Tweeter.” Jazzmeem took studio chatter and made music out of it. Grabbed a syllable, stretched it, twisted it, stuttered it, made it sound like Nina was singing instead of just mundanely giving instructions to the engineer. This remix is a splendid composition with fully-developed sections. Quite simply, it’s an awesome musical achievement. The bonus track is a seven-minute workout of “Turn Me On,” which, in the original, was one of Nina’s lesser renditions. A lot of people (especially Mtume) are not going to like the static house beat, but overall I find this version charming. The piano chords are upful and optimistic in their voicing and the way the keyboard-strings are mixed in is cinematic, i.e., I can see this used in a romantic movie, a scene where the two lead figures finally acknowledge that they are truly in love with each other—a picnic scene or a drive down the highway, something totally carefree. The track ends with a piano solo that is a fully developed jazz improvisation. It’s not a “Tweeter” or even an “Obeah Woman,” but it is an enjoyable pop remix. I much prefer this version, which I picked up online, to the one that is released on the album. This one is stripped down, the album version uses electronic touches that distract. The sine-qua-non is Nina’s voice, her sound, the deeptitude and rhythmic vibrancy of her utterances. She is the pre-eminent Black female voice of the last hundred years or so. I don’t doubt that this is going to be the biggest-selling Nina Simone record in her huge catalogue of recordings. People who weren’t even born when Nina was alive and recording are going to enjoy this. Imagine, music that was recorded over thirty years ago is about to become a best seller for a cultural icon who’s over three generations old. Children, y’all are about to discover your grandmother, discover just how hip she was, hip she is. Nina Simone. Re-imagined. Yeah! —Kalamu ya Salaam Miracle workers Some of these remix cats are miracle workers. I already know and like the original version of “Funkier than A Mosquito’s Tweeter,” but the remix is on that whole different level. Kalamu described it well. The only thing I’d add is how amazing it is that the remixer was able to do all the wild things he does instrumentally (it’s not all-electronic...check that long-ass drum solo) while retaining the feel of the original recording. This might be the best remix I’ve ever heard of an old record. It’s just that good. I like the remixes of “My Man's Gone Now” and “Save Me” too. Both of them are at least as good as the originals, if not better. I can’t quite get into the “Obeah Woman” remix though. In the original, there are too many choice ad-libs that get completely buried in the remix. The confessional spirit of the original just doesn’t come through. And as for that house remix...umm, what Kalamu said I’d say. In other words, yuck. I have to say though, three out of five ain’t bad at all. I think I’m going to like the album. —Mtume ya Salaam
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