A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook

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All Music Guide - Scott Yanow
Kendra Shank always performs stimulating and thought-provoking music, but this project is something particularly special. Abbey Lincoln has been writing songs (both music and lyrics) for decades, yet few other vocalists have covered more than one or two of them. Shank, who became a friend of Lincoln's by the mid-'90s, is one of the few exceptions, adding a few of Lincoln's songs to her repertoire and showing that she could do them justice. On A Spirit Free, Kendra Shank, her regular rhythm section, multi-reedist Billy Drewes (who is a major asset throughout) and occasionally guitarist Ben Monder and Gary Versace on accordion, explore a full set of Abbey Lincoln songs. Shank...
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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Scott Yanow
Kendra Shank always performs stimulating and thought-provoking music, but this project is something particularly special. Abbey Lincoln has been writing songs (both music and lyrics) for decades, yet few other vocalists have covered more than one or two of them. Shank, who became a friend of Lincoln's by the mid-'90s, is one of the few exceptions, adding a few of Lincoln's songs to her repertoire and showing that she could do them justice. On A Spirit Free, Kendra Shank, her regular rhythm section, multi-reedist Billy Drewes (who is a major asset throughout) and occasionally guitarist Ben Monder and Gary Versace on accordion, explore a full set of Abbey Lincoln songs. Shank really captures the spirit of the music, digging into the words, phrasing some of the numbers like Lincoln yet putting her own personality in the music too. While "Bird Alone" and "Throw It Away" are the best known of the selections, the other songs also feature insightful lyrics about the world that are worthy of the very best folk music, with haunting melodies and unusual chord structures. The arrangements are creative and advanced, the musicians come up with fresh ideas, and Kendra Shank has never sounded better, though her previous CDs were also excellent. A Spirit Free is a gem, and one of the best jazz vocal albums of 2007.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 2/13/2007
  • Label: Challenge
  • UPC: 608917325324
  • Catalog Number: 73253

Album Credits

Performance Credits
Kendra Shank Primary Artist, Vocals, Kalimba
Frank Kimbrough Piano
Dean Johnson Bass
Ben Monder Guitar
Tony Moreno Percussion, Drums
Billy Drewes Percussion, Bass Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone
Gary Versace Accordion
Technical Credits
Abbey Lincoln Composer, Author
Gary Giddins Liner Notes
A.T. Michael MacDonald Mastering
Kendra Shank Composer, Producer, Liner Notes
Lou Holtzman Engineer
Andrew Rowan Producer
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Grammy-Worthy

    Through the first three months of 2007, two c.d.'s stand out as worthy of being nominated for a 2007 Grammy for best vocal jazz c.d.: Tierney Sutton's "On the Other Side" and this one. Kendra Shank is a great singer from New York who is too seldomly recorded. She has a pure, clarion tone of voice, and her mechanics--especially her breathing--are top drawer. She released three excellent c.d.'s in the last decade, but this one is her first in 7 years and I think it's her career highlight to date. What makes this African-influenced tribute to Abbey Lincoln so special, IMO, is the musicianship of all 7 musicians. Ms. Shank's regular quartet ("Frank Kimbrough-p., and one of the best Dean Johnson-bs., and probably the most featured musician here and Tony Moreno-dr. and per.--like Ms. Shank, one of the most underrated in his field") are joined by 3 outstanding musicians: Ben Monder-g.--also one of the best", Billy Drewes "various reeds" and Gary Versace-acc.--including a charming duet with Ms. Shank, track 9. Together, these 7 musicians consistently sublimate their egos and go for the gestalt, and create some absolutely wonderful music in the process. The music is difficult, but accessible and the more you listen to this recording, the more subtle delights you will hear. For example, in "Throw It Away", Kimbrough dampens his piano strings, so as to sound like a marimba--and plays his part like a marimba. The marimba sound, not the piano, is what works for the tune. As another example, Drewes is very proficient on the tenor sax, undoubtedly his main instrument. But on "Down Here Below", he makes the perfect choice: bass clarinet. The sound of the bass clarinet is key to bringing home the moody intensity of this song. On "The Music Is the Magic", Monder plays a very fast, intricate line on his guitar--very softly, so as not to upset the 5/4, African-based tempo. He adds to the atmosphere of the song, not detracts. Likewise, on "I've Got Thunder "And It Rings"" and "The World Is Falling Down", Moreno could rightfully steal the bandstand by bashing. But he plays just loudly enough to stay within the balance of the other 6 musicians while getting the point across. Special note as to "The World Is Falling Down": that was the title track and tune from Abbey Lincoln's 1990 comeback album. Here, the 7 musicians do it in a country mode as a memorial to 911. This is one of the most emotional renditions of a song I have ever heard. The way Ms. Shank intones "Hold My Hand" throughout just leaves me with tears in my eyes, every time. I just cannot recommend this c.d. highly enough. It is true art. And Ms. Shank is not merely a singer singing with the band she is a musician. She is a true artist. I truly hope that Challenge Records will stick with her, and that we the public won't have to wait another 7 years to hear this criminally underrated musician. And I hope the Grammy voters wake up and listen.

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