Xiu Xiu – Nina
2013 – Graveface Records
I’ve recently become enamored with Xiu Xiu. Brainchild of Jamie Stewart, Xiu Xiu has bent and twisted multiple genres and sounds while shuffling through lineup changes over the past fifteen years. They recently put out a great double album of the music from Twin Peaks (in their own creepy style…featuring a vibraphone). “Nina” is a tribute to Nina Simone in the most convoluted, twisted, and weird way possible. Mr. Stewart, who’s voice is unmistakable (dark, gravely, warbled, and warm all at once), decided to put together a who’s who of cutting edge New York free jazz musicians. Tim Berne, Tony Malaby, Mary Halvorson, Andrea Parkins, and Ches Smith all shine on this album. They have broken down Ms. Simone’s songs to their bare bones and built them back up in a way that both bears little resemblance to the originals and pays homage to them. The arrangements are sparse and perpetuate the melancholy that is present in the original recordings. It would be easy with this group to overplay, they are all skilled at complicated, dense improvisation, but they hold back on this album. The beautiful arrangements were done by Ches Smith (I love when the percussionist has arranging chops). Lovely and horrifying all at once, this album has equal chance of giving you nightmares or a deep sense of calm. “Nina” is something that must be experienced. Aside from the music, the record itself is beautiful, with a light blue disc and striking cover (check out the picture). Xiu Xiu really is something special.