With this tribute to the life and career of Nina Simone, San Francisco-based singer Kim Nalley fills the room with expressed emotion. Recorded live at Pearl's, She Put a Spell On Me jumps with the rhythms and melodies that captured our hearts during Simone's lifetime. The pianist, folk singer, protest singer and jazz singer, known to us as the High Priestess of Soul, left an indelible mark. Simone deserves hundreds of tributes like this one.
Nalley and her band do it their own way. Piano and guitar play an important role in the music as the singer puts her audience at ease with songs that Nina Simone interpreted so effectively. Gospel and spirituals play a large part in the album's makeup. "Trouble in Mind simmers with a Deep South awareness. "In the Evening by the Moonlight speaks of reverence and compassion. "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free, the high point of the album, finds the singer riding high on spirit and strong on emotion.
Guitarist Greg Skaff contributes cohesive counterpoint and dashing solo work, while pianist Tammy Hall does the same from a different viewpoint. Hall, in particular, finds the key to the gospel tradition in Simone's music and brings that quality forward.
Trumpeter Allen Smith, who joins the band for "You Can Have Him, provides a frail instrumental voice that contrasts sharply with Nalley's powerful performance. While the singer injects considerable emotion into this live session, it remains uneven in spots. Her more forceful interpretations, such as "I Put a Spell on You, achieve great success in revealing the heart and soul of Nina Simone, while several other tracks move mechanically, with a tired demeanor.
My Baby Just Cares for Me; In the Evening by the Moonlight; See-Line Woman; You Can Have Him; I Put a Spell On You; House of the Rising Sun; Trouble in Mind; Mississippi Goddamn; I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free; Extro.
Kim Nalley: vocals; Greg Skaff: guitar; Allen Smith: trumpet; Tammy Hall: piano; Michael Zisman: bass; Kent Bryson: drums.