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Artist Profiles

Abbey Lincoln: Through the Years

By Published: October 12, 2003
It was a call from French record producer Jean-Philippe Allard that led to Lincoln's first recording for a major label, The World Is Falling Down (Verve), and began a collaborative relationship that has produced a total of ten important discs to date. The Verve CDs, heavily laden with Lincoln's own compositions and lyrics, have given her the forum necessary to fully expose the depth and breadth of her considerable talent and define the current state of her art while affording her the opportunity to work with veteran artists like Stan Getz, Hank Jones, J. J. Johnson, Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins and younger stars Geri Allen, Roy Hargrove, Jerry Gonzalez, Steve Coleman, and Pat Metheny. Her latest effort for the label, It's Me, returns her to the orchestral setting she first explored on her debut recording Abbey Lincoln's Affair, A Story of a Girl in Love (Liberty/Blue Note) where her vocal interpretation of standards were accompanied by a big band arrangements by Marty Paich, Jack Montrose and the recently departed Benny Carter.

On It's Me the music is arranged and conducted by Alan Broadbent, whose recent orchestral arrangements for Charlie Haden's American Dreams project have received much notice, and Laurent Cugny, who created the striking string arrangements for Lincoln's 1994 release A Turtle's Dream. The orchestra is augmented by the piano of Kenny Barron and bass of Ray Drummond, two sensitive accompanists, who Lincoln half jokingly refers to as "great musicians I can't afford to hire" for regular live performances. The album's other featured soloist is James Spaulding, who like Lincoln is an alumnus of Max Roach's band. The singer credits Universal Jazz Coalition founder Cobi Narita with suggesting Spaulding whose flute and alto saxophone (along with Julien Lourau's tenor) contribute greatly to the strength of the orchestrations and the beauty of the music.

Lincoln's own approach to the music continues to be as personal as ever. While the kittenish quality of her early work has been long gone, so now is the strident sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s. They've been replaced with a more mellow and mature timbre, aged like fine cognac - unmistakably smooth, but not without its satisfying bite. Her slow deliberate interpretations of an old standards like “Skylark” and “Yellow Bird” may at may times betray a sense of melancholic sadness, but then she'll grab hold of a line like "crazy as a loon" and play with it to let you know that she's having fun, too. As she clearly is on her own songs - the soulful “They Call It Jazz” (with its onomatopoetic "razzamatazz") and the funky “Can You Dig It” (where she intones a forty year old line "Is to be or not to be really a question?" - which she credits to her [then] eight-year-old nephew). Then there's her raucous rendition of “Runnin' Wild”, the song sung by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, a spirited reconnection to the sexy starlet whose dress she once famously wore early in her own movie career.

Even on the traditional spiritual title track, where she contributes her own additional original lyrics, the singer mixes emotions, sometimes sounding truly prayerful, but at others appearing to have a slightly irreverent tongue in her cheek, as if testifying to her own laughing confession that she can be like "both God and the devil." Lincoln delivers seriously on her reprises of Cedar Walton's Ellingtonian eulogy, “The Maestro” and her collaboration with African pianist Bheki Mseleku “Through the Years” (which could well become her new signature song), fancifully on her own “Chateaux de Joux”, and emotionally on another original, “Love Is Made” and “The Search”, a "sentimental love song" left to her by her late brother Robert Woolridge.

Sounding strong and spry, Lincoln is looking forward her upcoming engagement at the Blue Note. She'll be accompanied by the trio of pianist Marc Cary, bassist Michael Bowie and drummer Jaz Sawyer, younger musicians who have served her faithfully through the years.

Photo Credit
Sue Storey

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