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Soul Express CD of the Month - March-April 2011


Open-ended Fantasy

Japan Only VAA Urban CD, 2010
Buy this album from our CD Shop
1) Games 2) Inside Outside 3) Let's Just Stay In 4) Cigarette & Wine 5) Good Love 6) My Love 7) Little Bit 8) Fragile 9) The Open-Ended Fantasy 10) Starry Night 11) Believe Again 12) Inside Outside [Original Demo] (Bonus Track)

It is very descriptive for the current state of soul music that it is not only very hard to find decent new albums to pick for the album of the month, but even when you find a great album like this - it is not officially released in United States at all - but a Japan-only release by a talented American soul-jazz artist!

I was more than impressed by Nina Vidal's self-titled debut set from 2007. It was picked as the album of month in March 2008, and I described Nina's music and jazzy soul style as a breath of fresh air. Nothing would be more apt way to describe the new album as well; if you compare this to anything you can see on the R&B charts in the U.S. today, Nina is really in the totally different category. So fresh, so talented, so classy!

Just take a look at the list of musicians on her new album: no machines, no synthesizers, no bloody autotune! Nina herself playes piano, Rhodes and organ, and she is backed by a band including real drums, electric and acoustic bass, guitar, percussion, trumpet and flugelhorn, tenor sax and trombone. On top of that, she has a four-piece string section conducted by Alan Ferber. When did you last hear a new soul/jazz recording with a musical backdrop like that? Was it in 2000, when Ledisi released her debut set Soulsinger... Eleven years ago!

Nina was performing at Blue Note club in New York early April, check this link: Nina Vidal at Blue Note. But other than that, I have not seen much publicity about her in United States. If you google her name, you will find my Soul Express review on top 10, and mostly her own promotional pages and YouTube picks. Well, maybe that's a sign for a bright future: Ledisi was also introduced in in the early 2000 as an artist who is popular in Finland - she was raved so much in Soul Express and she was (and still is) the best-selling artists in our CD shop! Ten years later, she topped Billboard R&B Album chart in her home country. But then again, let's hope Nina doesn't have to turn into another R&B artist produced by hip-hopsters, before she really gets any major recognition in her home country. Currently she is most popular in Japan, and this album is really a Japan-only release at the moment, still waiting for its US release.

Nina Simone Vidal was born in Queens, New York and she started to play piano as a child. While she was a student at New York University, she met musician and producer Caté, and passed a demo to him. Caté agreed to produce some songs for Nina, and in January 2005 they were published as an EP Do It Again. It was followed by a full album Nina Vidal in 2007, including such timeless masterpieces as Moving Along, Halfway and No Umbrella. Just take a listen to her music by yourself on this You Tube clip:

Nina was named after the legendary jazz and soul artist Nina Simone by her mother, and of course Nina Simone has been one of Nina Vidal's idols, but she also names such artists as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Miles Davis, Anita Baker and Sade as her influences. Although you can compare her style to Lizz Wright, Sade, Gabriela Anders and many other soul-jazz artists, I would say that Nina Vidal already has a sound of her own. Her velvety real-musician backdrop dominated by smooth bass, percussion and piano is actually quite unique and distinguishible, and her soft yet smoky soprano over this backdrop really makes a perfect combination. She is not a new Ledisi, new Nina Simone or new Lizz Wright. She is a fresh, unique talent, whose music should appeal to any lover of classy, timeless soul-jazz.

On her new album Nina also covers two pop songs (Fragile, My Love), but all the other ten tracks are self-written by Nina. The most notable new jazzy soul cuts like Cigarrette and Wine and Let's Just Stay In have already been featured on our Quality Time Cream Cuts chart, and were listed among the top tracks of 2010. The third Cream Cuts pick will be the excellent opening track Games, which is backed by her fine string quartet. Good Love is coloured by the horn section and a mellow bass line, and is another real winner, too.

The album should be released finally in US during the summer of 2011, but if you cannot wait for that, go and buy the Japanese import, which is also available from our own Soul Express CD store.
- Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

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