Abbey Is Blue: songs by ABBEY LINCOLN
Abbey Lincoln is accompanied on Lonely House and Thursday’s Child by Kenny Dorham (tp) Wynton Kelly (p) Les Spann (g) Sam Jones (b) Philly Joe Jones (drs). On Brother,Where Are You, Spann on (fl). On Come Sunday, Lost in the Stars, and Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise, Phil Wright (p) replaces Kelly.
Accompaniment on Afro-Blue and Long As You’re Living is by Tommy Turrentine (tp) Julian Priester (tb) Stanley Turrentine (ts) Bobby Boswell (b) Max Roach (drs) On Laugh, Clown, Laugh and Let Up, Cedar Walton (p) added.
Reeves Sound Studios, NYC; Spring and Fall, 1959
Afro-Blue (3:25) (Brown – Mann)
2. Lonely House (3:33) (Hughes – Weill)
Let Up (5:19) (Abbey Lincoln)
Thursday’s Child (3:34) (Boyd –Grand)
Brother, Where Are You? (3:05) (Oscar Brown, Jr.)
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (5:17) (Lewis – Young- Fiorito)
Come Sunday (5:07) (Duke Ellington)
Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise (2:41) (Hammerstein – Romberg)
Lost in the Stars (4:06) (Anderson – Weill)
Long As You’re Living (Brown – Priester – Turretine)
Always, it seems, the sad songs are best sung by a woman. The truest image of sorrow, the bitterest taste of loneliness, the deepest shades of blue – such things are apt to be most haunting and most moving when a woman gives them voice. In this album, ABBEY LINCOLN proves once again that this is true. And in the course of doing so, Abbey also moves several large strides towards claiming a deserved place among the best of the jazz-linked singers of today.
Although this is a collection of songs primarily concerned with various shapes and sizes of sorrow, it is by no means pitched in a single emotional key. It ranges from the sardonic Laugh, Clown, Laugh and the despair of Lost in the Stars to the intriguing fantasy of Afro-Blue and the brave affirmation of Duke Ellington’s beautiful Come Sunday and of an unusual new song called Long as You’re Living. It also offers a striking demonstration of the musical fact that there are a great many distinctly different tempos to sing in without ever having to break into a full-speed run.
Above all, Abbey is dealing here with the kind of material and the kind of musical message that is most closely hers. The songs, carefully selected and carefully recorded with varying musical backgrounds, are all compositions about which the singer feels very strongly. And, equally importantly, they are all selections particularly well-suited to Abbey’s warm and sinuous vocal style. Although in only a couple of instances do they fall into or close to a specific blues pattern, all of them have – or can be properly interpreted as having – a true blues feeling.
Working within this comfortable and strongly-felt framework, Abbey seems able to project her own special vocal magic with great warmth and almost effortless ease. She has never been a phrase-blender or melody-twister, and her concentration on the “message” of a lyric has led some people to dispute that she is a “jazz singer” (whatever that term might mean). Certainly on this record she is singer, and she achieves emotional and musical effects that belong with jazz and to jazz – and as far as I can determine, that’s as good a definition of “jazz singer” as any.
The selections include, on the one hand, some rather firmly established standards, and on the other, three numbers that are being presented or the first time (plus one, Herbie Mann’s Afro-Blue, previously recorded only as an instrumental). Among the ‘standard’ composers are some superior talents. Ellington is represented by Come Sunday, a theme from his “Black, Brown and Beige” to which lyrics have recently been added to create a gospel-tinged song of great beauty and power. And there are two of the many rich melodies of Kurt Weill, both with lyrics by outstanding American poets – playwrite Maxwell Anderson for Lost in the Stars, and Langston Hughes for the less well-known but achingly tender Lonely House. The original material includes Abbey’s won deep blues, Let Up (“when will troubles let up? . . . .”) and three numbers with lyrics by a most impressive young writer, Oscar Brown, Jr. First represented on record by Strong Man, a surging tune included on Abbey’s first Riverside album (RLP 12-251), Brown here contributes the plaintive Brother, Where Are You? And the words to the decidedly off-beat among other things, for being the only song about love in the LP that doesn’t deal with the unrequired or frustrated kind).
As on her precious albums, Abbey’s accompaniment here includes quite a few very highly regarded jazz musicians. But for the most part the backing is deliberately light and easy-flowing, primarily designed to provide a sure rhythm base for the singer, plus mood-enhancing touches by such as Kenny Dorham and Wynton Kelly. On Afro-Blue and Long As You’re Living, however, there is appropriately rich and full background by a three-horn group paced by Max Roach.
The overall result of this unusually well-integrated blending of singer, songs and music is an album with a considerable emotional impact, with a deep warmth and a gently swinging pulse. I think it is certainly the best singing by far that Abbey has done on records, and I think now – as I did much of the time while it was being recorded – that it stands up as among the most effective and moving albums that nay singer has created in a long time.
ABBEY LINCOLN was born in Chicago, raised in Michigan, and bent on a singing career for as long as she can remember. For a time she was well on her way to a successful supper-club career; then she made the basic decision that what she really wanted was to work with the jazz musicians she had long known and admired, and to work towards the same kinds of artistic expression as they were doing. She has had successful engagements in jazz clubs in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and thereabouts, and has also been enthusiastically received in England and Sweden.
That’s Him!: ABBEY LINCOLN with the Riverside Jazz Stars –
Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Max Roach (RLP 12-251)
It’s Magic: ABBEY LINCOLN, with Art Farmer, Kenny Dorham, Benny Golson (RLP 12-277)
Produced by BILL GRAUER and ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover designed and produced by PAUL BACON – KEN BRAREN – HARRIS LEWINE
Cover and back-liner photographs by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK
Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.