Friday, April 9, 2010
Abbey LINCOLN - Wholly Earth 1998
Abbey Lincoln's follow-up to the well-received Verve release Who Used to Dance finds the singer stretching her sweet and sour vocals and exquisitely languorous phrasing over a set of (mostly) original material. Joined by the likes of Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and marimba and Nicholas Payton on trumpet and flügelhorn, Wholly Earth is wholly Abbey Lincoln--romance buffered by heartbreak tragedy; idealism diffused by real-life pitfalls; striking beauty windblown by brief shadows and sad downpours. On the title cut she is swept away by joy while "Caged Bird" is a melancholy shuffle and "And It's Supposed to Be Love" is a romantic tearjerker. That Ms. Lincoln can express so many moods some just by the mere sound of her voice is testament to her tremendous talents. That a record like Wholly Earth is large enough to contain all she has to offer is testament to its remarkable success.
By S. Duda.
Even a cursory listen to WHOLLY EARTH makes it seem fair to call Lincoln the inheritor of Nina Simone's lofty mantle. Like Simone, Lincoln employs an expressive, rough-edged tenor and an expansive compositional mindset in the service of something too multi-faceted to be pigeonholed as "jazz." Lincoln composed most of the tunes here and their variety runs apace with their high quality.
Listen to her trade lines with guest vocalist Maggie Brown on the Mexican- inflected "And It's Supposed to be Love." Take in the whirling dervish that is the joyous title track, drawing on jazz, African and Latin rhythms (a combination put to effective use throughout the album) as Lincoln wails jubilantly over Alvester Garnett's churning percussion. The depth and breadth of Lincoln's abilities as both writer and vocalist are obvious. Some of the finest moments are made possible by the interplay between Lincoln and vibes/marimba wizard Bobby Hutcherson, whose contributions practically rate co-billing.
Undoubtedly, Abbey Lincoln is one of the most intelligent, sophisticated singers out there. Everyone, it seems, has noted her way with lyrics a commitment to the defiance, wry humor, or lovelessness of the songs' emotional world that surely co-exists with her acting skills. Very few people read a lyric as well as Abbey.
On a purely musical level, Abbey's voice is an eccentric and unusual instrument. When matched with the right material, the results are sublime. However, unspectacular accompaniment, arrangements, or lyrics draw the listener's attention to Abbey's vocal shortcomings. Although Abbey does not commit some of the egregious lapses in intonation that mar volume two of her Billie Holiday tribute, "Wholly Earth" does not have the consistent excellence of some of her other albums. Two of those better albums are: "Abbey is Blue" (a 50s collaboration with Max Roach) and "When there is Love" (good songs sung well with sympathetic pianist Hank Jones as only accompaniment).
"Wholly Earth" is somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of a great album. Her original songs fare worst: "Conversation With a Baby" features her musings about the celestial origins of babies, but remains entirely earthbound because its descending melody, harmonic structure, and solos are uninventive. Yet, "And It's Supposed to Be Love" and the title track show that Abbey and the band can compensate for some unoriginality in lyric, melody, or harmony with a groove that highlights the musicians' unity of purpose. "Another Time, Another Place" and "If I Only Had a Brain" also deserve special mention as well-performed standards.
I think that reviewers and listeners should stop forgiving Abbey's faults in intonation, songwriting, and melodic choices (e.g. a screechy ending that mars a well-performed title track) and push her to exhibit what the best of these tracks show. Five stars? A bit much. Save that for consistent and truly outstanding albums. Perhaps it's time that Verve released Abbey from (or encouraged her to exceed) the pattern of ballads and originals performed with a piano-led trio that most of her Verves follow.
By Miles P. Grier.
Abbey Lincoln- Vocals
Bobby Hutcherson- Vibraphone, Marimba
Marc Cary- Piano
James Hurt- Piano
John Ormond- Bass
Michael Bowie- Bass
Alvester Garnett- Drums
Nicholas Payton- Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Daniel Moreno- Percussion
Maggie Brown- Vocals
01. And It's Supposed To Be Love 5:13
02. Midnight Sun 7:23
03. Wholly Earth 6:01
04. Look To The Star 6:42
05. Another World 9:13
06. Conversation With A Baby 6:37
07. If I Only Had A Brain 5:32
08. Another Time, Another Place 7:16
09. Caged Bird 7:02
10. Learning How To Listen 6:29