Sunday, August 15, 2010

Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010)

This Chicago born beauty worked as a singer in California under the name Anna Marie and appeared in the film, The Girl Can't Help It and some other minor roles. Lincoln's "own emancipation proclamation turned her from conventional club singer into one the most dramatic and distinctive voices if the day," as Morton and Cook in their Penguin Guide to jazz on CD explain. So began recording for Prestige. A mighty start for a new singer to mixed with Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers. Fell in love with drummer Max Roach and married him (1962-70). Her Career faded in the '70s but a revival arrived in the '80s, this time European took interest in her music and that led to a new contract with Verve. Since then she was active and an influential jazz vocalist on a new generation of female singers, according to Richard Cook.

I love her emphasizing notes and words, her often departures from blues and the way she copes with brass instrument, the way that Billie Holiday used to be.

Her first five recordings are all classics: That's Him (1957, Riverside), It's Magic (1958, Riverside), Abbey Is Blue (1959, Riverside), We Insist! – Freedom Now Suite (1960, with Max Roach, Candid), and Straight Ahead (1961, Candid Records).

Though she wasn't much of a ballad singer from the beginning, later, in her two 60s recordings she broke free from those conventions of a female jazz vocalist and start incorporating political themes into her lyrics. Even her voice became rougher to mirror the anger that she was feeling at the time. Racism and injustice was the key theme of her masterpiece with Max Roach, Freedom now suite, produced by Nat Hentoff, in his new Candid label , and banned in South Africa.

If you live in where I live and jazz be your only language, it's impossible to not cry with Max/Abby's Freedom Day, as I did during all bloody summer of 2009.

And finally, maybe there is a small problem with these early recordings and that's the top-notch line-ups. Somehow Abbey get lost in a crowd consists of Coleman Hawkins, Booker Little, Julian Priester, Eric Dolphy, Mal Waldron, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Sahib Shihab and many heavyweights that she or her record producer have picked as sidemen. This is unlike Billie who could sing in front of any band, or Sarah Vaughan who just start to warm up in front of a twenty piece orchestra. Maybe Abbey lacks that power in her sound which make one go and outdo any instrument. But no one, never, can complain about the music, because it's always near perfect and when Hawk comes in, it is perfect (in this case just listen to Coleman Hawkins in Freedom Now Suite's Driva' Man, after Abbey's mesmerizing introduction).

Listen to Abbey, accompanied by mister Hank Jones on piano in The Nearness Of You, 1992:

Rest in peace, Abbey.

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