NinaSimoneLittleGirlLabel

The original Duke Ellington composition, recorded in 1930, is a slow blues with an eerie choir of high trombone, trumpet in the middle and low clarinet playing the melody line. Constant Lambert memorably described it as “exquisitely tired and four-in-the-morning.” Nina Simone’s version, dating from 1957 and appearing as the opening track on her first LP Little Girl Blue, is very different. It starts off at a blistering tempo with four bars of bass and drums, introducing an astonishing 64 bar piano solo which drives us towards the vocal with ever increasing rhythmical tension. The solo is structured into four distinct 16 bar phrases. The first features stabbing chords, then the second begins some serious displacement of the beat. A single note stuttering motif blurs across the bar lines so that we lose our place and are not sure where the phrase end actually is. But it ends bang on time after all and leads on to the third phrase, featuring Simone’s characteristic Bach-like counterpoint, heard in many of her other recordings of this time. This slowly dissipates into a return of the opening stabbing chords and stuttering motif for the final 16 bars. The tension builds and builds until it becomes almost unbearable, finally released with a full two bars of silence before the vocals begin, slow and beautifully phrased, above the still relentless, driving rhythms of the piano, bass and drums. “You ain’t never been blue, till you’ve had that mood indigo.” Three verses and another great 32-bar piano solo are crammed into this highly intense track, which somehow ends up at only four minutes long.

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