Just in Time, Again and Again

Nina Simone at the Village GateBack on 08 May, I wrote that the recording of Nina Simone’s 1961 performance “At the Village Gate” was in heavy rotation on my CD player. That’s still the case. In fact, this past week, I became somewhat irrationally fixated on the disc’s opening track, “Just in Time.”

Simone’s performance of this small-scale paean to luck and love is sublime genius. She begins with her trademark casual precision, a subdued exuberance that quietly erupts towards the end into a beautiful, joyous crying. But these vocals are just bookends — after singing just a few bars at the beginning of the song she seemingly and suddenly abandons her audience to a quietly playful guitar, bass, drums.

The amazing trick she manages is this: defining the whole of the song by her very absence from its center, controlling that undefinable intersection of sound and time wherein the audience craves the form of her voice the most by not giving it over at all, withholding it almost cruelly. Yet, in spite of this absence, the whole of the song and every tiny detail in its crevices are clearly of her own design and volition — though the voice is gone, she’s not. She’s unmistakably there. It’s a brazenly confident gesture with which to open an evening’s performance, but her delivery and its effectiveness are immaculate. I’m left in wonder after each listen and I can’t get enough; since Thursday, I’ve had my CD player set to repeat that track without end.