Abbey Lincoln – Sophisticated Abbey – HighNote HCD 7280, 54:03 ****:

(Abbey Lincoln – vocals; Phil Wright – piano; James Leary – bass; Doug Sides – drums)

Abbey Lincoln was a unique vocalist and social activist. Following in the tradition of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, she developed her early style that combined vocal sensuality and sensibility. As her career developed, she immersed herself in the civil rights movement, and her recordings and performances became more aligned with this cause.

In this previously unreleased performance from the Keystone Korner in San Francisco from March 1980, Abbey had just returned to the music scene, after a period that had seen her spend much time in Africa, and generally away from music.

In this somewhat eclectic session, Abbey runs through a set list of original material, standards, and songs that appear to have a close association with her causes. Backed by a sympathetic trio, she sings and talks her way with warmth and intimacy through the numbers starting with her own composition “Painted Lady”. Her reputation as a forceful and independent woman show through on the lyrics which, in part, are: ”But for the painted lady/ There is a point and stare/ And eyes that ask a question/ Is she going anywhere?” On “ Somos Novios” (It’s Impossible) Abbey runs though the entire tune in Spanish, accompanied only by pianist Phil Wright, before the full trio chimes in on the English lyrics. Wright and Lincoln first met in 1957 and had established a musical bond that shows throughout the session.

There are two lengthly medley tracks, which despite being taken a virtually the same languid tempo, have different results. The first contains “Sophisticated Lady/ There Are Such Things/ Man Of Music (Con Alma) and the second “The Nearness Of You/ For All We Know”.  On the former, Lincoln seems to force the lyrics and omits the subtle undertones offered by the compositions . While on the latter, she emotes in a very committed and thoroughly poignant fashion. The final number is the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless The Child” which Lincoln takes to heart and makes it her own.

This is a welcomed addition to the Abbey Lincoln discography.

TrackList: Painted Lady; Long As You’re Living; Spoken Introduction; Somos Novios ( It’s Impossible); Medley: Sophisticated Lady/There Are Such Things/Man Of Music( Con Alma); Whistling Away The Dark; Spoken Introduction; People In Me; Medley: The Nearness Of You/For All We Know; Golden  Lady; God Bless The Child

—Pierre Giroux