Abbey Lincoln – Abbey is Blue – Riverside/ Craft Recordings CR 00369 – 180 gm audiophile stereo vinyl – 1959 – ****
(Abbey Lincoln – vocals – Kenny Dorham or Tommy Turrentine – trumpet; Stanley Turrentine – tenor sax – Julian Priester – trombone – Wynton Kelly, Phil Wright, or Cedar Walton – piano; Les Spann – guitar and flute – Sam Jones or Bobby Boswell – bass – Max Roach or Philly Joe Jones – drums)
Abbey Lincoln’s voice was a clarion call for both social justice and civil rights. She was briefly married to drummer, Max Roach, and in 1960 she was the vocalist on Roach’s classic album, We Insist!
With her striking beauty, Abbey also acted in several movies, but it was her jazz vocal skills for which she is most known.
The boutique vinyl label, Craft Recordings, has just released on a marvelously remastered audiophile 180 vinyl, one of Lincoln’s early classic albums, Abbey is Blue. Recorded in 1959, the original label, Riverside Records, had two different all-star line-ups back Ms. Lincoln. All leaders in the field, they provide a sure-footed stage for Abbey to feature both classic standards as well, as two tunes with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr. Brown was noted for using hip jargon, done in rapid fire, to reach out to the public with both African American liberation, as well as socially conscious themes, which still remain relevant today. Abbey contributes her own relevant composition, “Let Up.”
Of the ten tunes, four feature members of Max Roach’s group from this time period: Stanley and Tommy Turrentine, Julian Priester, and bassist, Bobby Boswell. Needless to say, the horns provide a snappy background for Lincoln’s vocals. The other six tracks have trumpeter, Kenny Dorham’s mellow horn adding a coolly melancholic vibe, especially on the ballads. A beyond first rate rhythm section of either Wynton Kelly or Phil Wright on piano; Sam Jones on bass; and the brilliant Philly Joe Jones on drums, shows how strongly Riverside valued Abbey on their roster. Les Spann is the guitarist, and gets a flute feature on “Brother, Where Are You?”
Herbie Mann’s “Afro Blue,” most often done as an instrumental, opens the album. It’s a treat to hear a trumpet solo from Tommy Turrentine, who recorded so rarely after his tenure with Max Roach. “Lonely House” is a ballad with somber lyrics, “… lonely street, lonely town, unhook the stars and take them down.”
The melancholy vibe continues with Abbey’s own, “Let Up.” The background horns provide color. “Thursday’s Child” shows Lincoln’s use of “space” much like Shirley Horn, as her clear enunciation allows the listener to fully take in the lyrics. Abbey truly digs in with outrage on “Laugh, Clown, Laugh,” as her effective sardonic presentation on “ give them your phony expression, hide yourself, don’t frown..play the fool, be clever” cuts to the bone.
The standards, “Lost in the Stars,” and “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” are done with tenderness and the lyrics soar. The two Oscar Brown, Jr. tracks, “Brother Where Are You?” and “Long as You’re Living” are preview songs where Lincoln would go in the future, with am emphasis on social commentary.
The acoustics on this audiophile vinyl are exemplary with all analog remastering from the original tapes by Kevin Gray of Cohearant Audio. Abbey’s voice is crystalline and the horns and piano are upfront in the mix.
There is a lot to like here. Fans of Ms. Lincoln will surely want this vinyl treasure.
Brother, Where Are You?
Laugh, Clown, Laugh
Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise
Lost in the Stars
Long As You’re Living
More information available at Craft Recordings website: