[30 November 2008]
So amazing and expansive was Nina Simone’s work that it is constantly being remixed, reimagined, repackaged and reconsidered. Since her return to the welcoming embrace of the ancestors, the marketplace has been flooded with no fewer than a dozen reissues and anthologies of Simone’s art. If comprehensiveness and the right balance of bonafide hits, b-side classics, and unreleased live performances are the criteria for a first-rate boxset, then the compilers and producers of To Be Free performed their job masterfully. Spanning the years between 1957 and 1993, the four-disc compilation covers Simone’s years with Bethlehem, Colpix, Philips, RCA, and Columbia Records. Included are nearly all the classics you’d play for some who has never heard of Simone, as well as unreleased material not even in bootleg circulation. By far the most exciting thing about the anthology is the DVD, an Emmy-nominated 1970 documentary enlivened by rare performances and interviews. Engrossing from start to finish, the video gives you a sense of Nina Simone as both an artist and a fearless bandleader. To those of us not fortunate enough to have caught her when she was among the living, the concert footage is a special treat.