From the depths of the bustling basement Jazz Bar on the edge of Chamber Street, Edinburgh, spilled the deeply passionate, intimate music of Nina Simone from Scottish Jazz Award-winning singer Ali Affleck. Amongst a crowd of riled up jazz lovers and enthusiastic dancers was a roundhouse performance of powerful vocals and crisp instrumental breaks. Together with Ali’s powerhouse band and challenging setlist, the evening was wildly impressive.
Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was an American singer, songwriter, musical arranger and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of styles, including jazz, R&B, classical, gospel, pop and blues, and she came from a background of studying classical piano. To match the deeply influential person she was, her music transcends through deep passion, complex arrangements and, in some cases, retelling of classic jazz numbers. To be so ambitious as to cover Nina Simone is brave, but Ali Affleck did it fantastically with what seemed little effort.
To begin, pianist Paul Harrison introduced his precise, staccato solos that persisted throughout, holding not just the audience, but the band, in his grasp as he eased us along an impeccable string of seamless sequences. To break the trance, Colin Steele cut through for a trumpet solo to match the same precision with loud bursts of upper range fortissimo followed by a tumbling frenzy of nonsense notes.
Second on the set was Simone’s sweeping classic ‘Feeling Good’, which began with an isolated verse from Ali. As her voice echoed around the room, we fell under her spell. Her voice was compelling, bouncing off the walls and lingering as an echo before the band broke through for the distinctive semitone descent sequence. It was truly magical — a performance exuding confidence, sass, and admirable poise.
The evening was by no means short of range. There were instrumental numbers — one Porgy and Bess cover led by Colin Steele which aptly displayed the question and answer playfulness between his trumpet and Roy Percy’s double bass. Others were intimate ballads, sombre and bluesy to beautifully illustrate the chemistry between piano and lead vocals. Her voice rich with emotion, Ali led with effortless flair, singing crisp chromatic runs which quivered in the lower octave and rung out in the higher register.
‘Love Me Or Leave Me’ was bouncy and fun, coaxing the audience forward to dance and sing along, swaying side to side as the music nudged the night into livelier spirits. But even as the mood changed by the number, each one was as palpable as the last. ‘Tell Me More And Then Some’ was originally written by Billie Holiday as a plaintive song, but Simone changed it to sound more seductive. And with her raspy vocals and assertive stage presence, Ali knew exactly how to replicate it.
Overall, the night was lively and fun, with intimacy, seductiveness, solemnity, and lust sprinkled throughout. Although it’s easy to undermine an audience attempting to cover Nina Simone, Friday night was not an example of such. With expert poise and flair, Ali and her dynamic four-piece band drove electricity and exhilaration through the room and coxed everyone, undoubtedly, to see them again.
Find Ali on Instagram here: @aliaffleck
Featured Image Credit: Ali Affleck