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Music Video Distributors presents

Nina Simone: Live at Ronnie Scott's (1985)

"Music is my god."- Nina Simone

Stars: Nina Simone
Other Stars: Paul Robinson, Rob Lemkin
Director: Steve Cleary and Rob Lemkin

MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 00h:56m:35s
Release Date: 2003-05-20
Genre: jazz

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B A-B-B D+


DVD Review

She's no run-of-the-mill cabaret torch singer, is Nina Simone. Her particular style of music is close to impossible to classify—it's got its roots in gospel and blues, but she also covers more familiar pop tunes as well as writing many of her own songs. This hour-long set, recorded in a London nightclub in 1985, ably captures the woman, her craft, and her tremendously broad range.

Simone is at the piano as she sings, joined only by a drummer—the spare sound shows off both her voice and keyboard expertise to keen advantage. She brings an intense charisma to her performance, and even in this small venue, you can see that she's seriously working it—she towels off not just between songs, but during them, so intense is her effort. Be My Husband gets her out from behind the piano, and she sounds great backed just by the drums; it also enables her to establish a certain rapport with the appreciative audience that she couldn't quite achieve on the piano bench. Surprisingly enough, the tune most familiar from the great American songbook, George Gershwin's I Loves You, Porgy, seems almost half-hearted—she seems more interested in her piano playing on this one than in her singing.

She's rightly proud of her accomplishments as a songwriter, and her own Mississippi Goddam is twinned with great success in a medley with Moon Over Alabama, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. (Even if you're not a big fan of mid-twentieth-century German musical theater, you may know this one, as it was covered by the Doors.) The set ends with what's probably her most famous tune, My Baby Just Cares For Me, and though she knows that that's what many in the audience have been waiting for, she gives more than just a perfunctory version of it—it is in fact a great way to end her set, and doesn't feel phoned in, like yet another walkthrough of Mick Jagger not getting no satisfaction, or of Tony Bennett leaving his heart in San Francisco.

The songs are intercut with interview footage with Simone, in which she reflects on her upbringing—she was trained as a classical pianist—her musical favorites (Art Blakey, Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie), and offers some downright incomprehensible cosmology. Her setlist:

God, God, God
If You Knew
Mr. Smith
Fodder In Her Wings
Be My Husband
I Loves You, Porgy
The Other Woman
Mississippi Goddam / Moon Over Alabama
For A While
See-Line Woman
I Sing Just To Know I'm Alive
My Baby Just Cares For Me

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The video quality is adequate at best—this seems to have been a three-camera shoot, and the footage is overly contrasty. Additionally, there are occasional focus problems. But the transfer seems to have been done with care, as the extra interference is at a minimum.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The original concert seems to have been poorly miked, and hence there's some croaking and buzzing on the soundtrack, in both the 2.0 and 5.1 tracks. Either track shows off Simone's rich voice quite well, with a slight edge to the 2.0, for my money, for imparting more of the club feel.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Music/Song Access with 13 cues and remote access
9 Other Trailer(s) featuring Duke Ellington: Memories of Duke, That Old Black Magic, Jazz Collection: The Legends Series, The Sound of Jazz, Cool Summer: Dexter Gordon and McCoy Tyner, Cool Summer: Stan Getz and Alto Madness, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Live at Ronnie Scott's, Ahmad Jamal, Gary Burton: Live
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Nine clips from other titles in the MVD catalog are all that's on hand.

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

This concert film doesn't quite capture the immediacy of a live club date, but Simone is in fine fettle here, and there's no two-drink minimum.

Jon Danziger 2003-06-25