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Abbey LINCOLN (1930-2010)

Golden Lady

Inner City Records IC1117 [42:21]




1. Sophisticated Lady [7:34]

2. Golden Lady [8:10]

3. Painted Lady [4:15]

4. Throw It Away [6:36]

5. What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life [9:34]

6. Caged Bird [6:12]

Abbey Lincoln (vocals), Archie Shepp (tenor sax), Roy Burroughs (trumpet), Hilton Ruiz (piano), Jack Gregg (bass), Freddie Waits (drums)

rec. 1980 venue unknown


In classical music; in lieder and in opera there are a handful of singers I can immediately recognise including Maria Callas, Joan Baker, Kathleen Ferrier, Pavarotti, Caruso etc., their voices so distinctive there is no doubt who you’re listening to. In Jazz things are clearer and voices are much easier to identify; no-one could ever confuse the voices of Billy Holiday, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Billy Eckstein, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Sammy Davis Jr and many, many others, with anyone else. Abbey Lincoln is certainly one of those whose voice is so unmistakable it could be no-one else. In the liner notes there are some key points that highlight why she was such a special, no, unique singer; she said that since singers are the only instruments that use words it is imperative that the words are meaningful and that the singer understands them and that they should communicate some universal truths to the audience in order to find ‘a common ground’. The writer of these original notes from the album’s first release in 1981 also pointed out that in her own compositions she made sure that “the lyrics portray brittle ironies as well as simple truths we all need to be reminded of” and that she “interprets ballads with a sense of conviction that makes them blossom like few singers have.”

As she said at the time this record hit the shops “I am in my golden years on the planet” and that “I’m aware of my own increased sensitivity to life. I have discovered the scope, vastness, and perception of the people I come from and it’s given me a way of seeing myself in direct relationship to who we come from and who we are.” All this informs her singing and when she makes a point you know she’s making it because she believes in the content and wants you to as well. Naturally this is particularly the case when it comes to her own compositions which she later wrote under the name of Aminata Moseka, a name she adopted following a tour of Africa in the mid1970s. These songs have a particular relevance to her support for civil rights and human rights which took on an increasingly defiant stance over the years. The epitome of these ideas has surely never been more sharply brought into focus than in her song Caged Bird which she wrote in 1973 and which she closes this album with. As she said if an alien wanted to understand about humans all it would need to know is that while a bird is the only creature that can fly with the freedom that gives it humans put them in cages and keep them there. From Duke Ellington’s classic Sophisticated Lady which I have never heard sung better through to Stevie Wonder’s Golden Lady with its words a paean to love and then Abbey’s own Painted Lady that defiantly proclaims that working in the arts is a job whose validity demands as much respect as any other. Another of hers that again proclaims a human’s power is Throw It Away that reminds us that we cannot “lose a thing if it belongs to you.” Michel Legrand’s beautiful lyrics for What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life are again the most delightful way of expressing human love including these: What are you doing the rest of your life?
North and South and East and West of your life
I have only one request of your life
That you spend it all with me

All the seasons and the times of your days
All the nickels and the dimes of your days
Let the reasons and the rhymes of your days
All begin and end with me

Have you ever heard feelings of love more accurately expressed?

However, the bottom line is the voice and as I said at the start Abbey Lincoln’s is unmistakable with its dark velvet sound that so perfectly matches the songs she sang together with the power and the unshakable commitment she brought to each and every one and which makes this disc such a prized possession. If you are yet to discover her then you could not do better than start with this disc and once heard you’ll be hooked for good! Add to all that the musicians she managed to assemble for this disc which was recorded in Paris bringing together Roy Burroughs who was there touring with Sun Ra, Hilton Ruiz, Jack Gregg and Freddie Waits who were also touring with altoist Marion Brown and Archie Shepp whose presence is not explained (perhaps he and Abbey were touring together) and you have a dream team and they way they all mesh together here is an object lesson in collective music making. While they allow Abbey to shine (which requires little effort from her as she does quite naturally) they are also given space to show their individual mettle. From Archie’s wonderful and richly fluid sound and Jack Gregg’s magnificent bass (listen to some of his low bowed notes for a depth of sound you’ll have rarely heard before) to Roy Burroughs’ thoroughly engaging trumpet, Hilton Ruiz’s caressing piano style and Freddie Waits’ restrained yet anchoring drumming and you have a really cohesive group of single-minded musicians who understand their brief so well that the result is pure perfection.

Steve Arloff

...once heard you’ll be hooked for good!

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