Abbey Lincoln is different. Although strongly influenced by Billie Holiday's dramatic feel for and presentation of a song's message, and embedded in bebop through her eight-year marriage to drummer Max Roach, the singer maintains her own distinctive manner of delivering a lyric. Seven of the nine tracks on Who Used To Dance are ballads that serve to demonstrate the graininess in Lincoln's voice, the long, tied-together whole note phrases, and the carefully articulated words; these are some of the characteristics that we connect with Abbey Lincoln.
The title track features tap-dancer Savion Glover working out for over nine minutes while Lincoln and the piano trio deliver the melodramatic ballad. His approach is to assume the role of an additional accompanist, selecting triplets alongside the singer's legato quarter notes and varying the volume dynamics by spacing his phrases differently. For example, when the tune turns at midstream to a soft-spoken bass solo, Glover spaces his steps at wider intervals so as to allow the lyricism of Michael Bowie's acoustic bass to garner attention.
Alto saxophonists Frank Morgan, Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, Justin Robinson, and Riley Bandy III provide feature work, and the rhythm team of pianist Marc Cary, bassist Michael Bowie, and drummer Aaron Walker provide appropriate ballad accompaniment. The familiar Dylan tune "Mr. Tambourine Man" proves exceptionally charming, with the bass strumming throughout and the drummer's brushes flip-flopping, while tenor saxophonist Julien Lourau leans toward multiphonics and an avant-garde side of jazz. Frank Morgan blends his light, yet fluid, saxophone tone with Lincoln's voice on "When Autumn Sings" and "Love Lament." He also provides several insightful solos. "Love What You Doin" provides an opportunity for saxophonists Coleman, Lake and Bandy to work together accompanying Lincoln, and each has a share of the spotlight. Elsewhere, Coleman is featured on "Street of Dreams" and Bandy is featured on "I Sing a Song."
"The River" enlists a different rhythm section and offers a widely different view of Abbey Lincoln's work. She composed the song, wrote the poignant lyrics, and provides space here for cornetist Graham Haynes and saxophonists Robinson & Lake to pump up the excitement. Recommended.