Abbey Lincoln faturing Stan Getz
Stan Getz is featured on one of his final recordings during this excellent Abbey Lincoln CD; Getz's cool tenor fits in very well with Lincoln's voice, making one wish that they had met up previously. With pianist Hank Jones, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Mark Johnson and (on two songs) Maxine Roach's viola completing the group, it is not surprising that Lincoln sounds typically inspired. Actually her version of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" is a bit of a misfire with its dated lyrics (which should have been modified and altered to fit a female). However "Bird Alone," Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring" (given lyrics by Lincoln) and five of her originals more than compensate.
All Music Guide
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A musician (and true singers are musicians) may have exceptional technique but what makes his or her work stay in the mind are two essential qualities: soul and presence. On a stage, in a recording studio, in films or just talking on the telephone, Abbey Lincoln has compelling presence. I remember, years ago, recording a session with her and also on the date was the more than formidable Coleman Hawkins. Yet she was not dwarfed even by him.
The best description I've seen of both Abbey's presence and the intensity of her soul was by Peter Watrous in the New York Times: "...her utter individuality and... passionate delivery can leave an audience breathless with the tension of real drama. A slight, curling phrase is laden with significance, and the tone of her voice can signify hidden welts of emotion."
And the emotion is utterly personal, utterly real. Abbey in her songs is Abbey in life. She does not sing about what she does not know and has not experienced. Also uniting her music and her life is her sense of irony that comes from a wide and deep range of the ambivalences in this life.
This session, produced by Jean-Philippe Allard, is one of the best of her career. For one thing, the choice of colleagues was exactly right for her sense of what music should be. She asked for Stan Getz, Allard produced him, and the result is some of Getz's most deeply and gently attentive playing on record. In places, it is as if he were singing along with Abbey.
Considering the length of their careers, it is remarkable that this was the first time Abbey had recorded with the nonpareil Hank Jones. "He is such a beautiful man," Abbey says. "Having him on the session really affected my own instrument. He made everything so easy." So did bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Mark Johnson, and on two tracks, Maxine Roach on viola. The viola arrangements were by Randolph Noel who was also the assistant arranger on the rest for which Abbey Lincoln was the arranger.
Listening to a record, you can tell what the atmosphere was in the studio. In some cases, the tension of repeated takes and excessively convoluted arrangements comes through. In rare instances, it's immediately apparent that everything came together from the start and everyone savored the pleasures of making music.
This, as you can hear, was just such a date. "It wasn't hard," Abbey recalls, "because they were all masters. We all understood the same thing."
Five of the songs are by Abbey and, one way or another, they say that - as she puts it - "there's more to life than just a relationship with another person. That gets boring. My songs go beyond that. There are other things to talk about."
Abbey talks of "finding" her songs, finding them in her life.
Bird Alone, which has nothing to do with Charlie Parker, was found by her in Japan in 1973: "I was hanging with Miles Davis for a minute, and I heard this song. At first I tnought it was about him, but it was about me. I was truly alone over there. Sometimes you get a chance to show how big and bad you are, and then sometimes you fly low where everybody else is, and those who fly low are the ones who sing in the night."
You Gotta Pay the Band got its title from a Stanley Gray teleplay, If You Give a Dance You Gotta Pay the Band.
Or, as Abbey puts it, "What goes around, comes around. I've had experience with that."
You Made Me Funny is a particularly graphic song. You can see, as through a mirror, what it says. "It was the way I felt one morning when I got up," Abbey says. "Sometimes you're ungrateful for your life and in that sense, the song is a complaint. But it's also about recognizing that you're perfect or can be." The song is a paradox, like much of life.
And How I Hoped for Your Love comes from the son of a friend of hers - the son is also a friend - "who loves Stan Getz and loves bossa nova, and spent time in South America with that music. When he played it for me over the phone, I liked it so much, I asked him (R. B. Lynch) if I could write lyrics to it."
The haunting When I'm Called Home came to Abbey on her way to Japan once. "I cried. I found the song on the plane. I suddenly saw something clearly; I saw grief for me." And as a deep obbligato, there is Abbey's conviction that "this is a beautiful place we are in, but in terms of the culture we have made for ourselves, there's not enough in that culture for me. Why must everybody be hurt? Why must the children be disillusioned? We could do better. We could have better values than exist in this culture we have made for ourselves."
Abbey paused. "Do you see why I don't think songs about the bedroom any more?"
Up Jumped Spring, with music by Freddie Hubbard, was a song she heard in the 1960's when she was working with Max Roach and Freddie Hubbard was in the band. "This is the first time" she notes, "that I've had a chance to record it."