Anyone who has followed Abbey Lincoln's career with any regularity understands that she has followed a fiercely individual path and has paid the cost for those choices. Through the Years is a cross-licensed, three-disc retrospective expertly compiled and assembled by the artist and her longtime producer, Jean-Philippe Allard. Covering more than 50 years in her storied career, it establishes from the outset that Lincoln was always a true jazz singer and unique stylist. Though it contains no unreleased material, it does offer the first true picture of he range of expression. Her accompanists include former husband Max Roach, Benny Carter, Kenny Dorham, Charlie Haden, Sonny Rollins, Wynton Kelly, Benny Golson, J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, and Hank Jones, to name scant few.
Disc one commences with "This Can't Be Love" from 1956; one of the best-known tunes off her debut album, arranged and conducted by Golson. But the story begins to change immediately with "I Must Have That Man" with her fronting the Riverside Jazz All-Stars in 1957. Tracks from It's Magic, Abbey Is Blue, and Straight Ahead are here, and the story moves ahead chronologically and aesthetically all the way to 1984. But there are also big breaks stylistically, with her primal performance on "Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace" from We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite in 1960 and the amazing "Lonesome Lover" from It's Time: Max Roach and His Orchestra and Choir in 1962, which is where her story takes its first recording break. It picks up in 1973 with "Africa" from People in Me. It breaks again until 1980, with "Throw It Away" off the beautiful Painted Lady, and continues through appearances with Cedar Walton and Sun Ra. There is another break in the narrative between discs one and two, commencing again in 1990 with the issue of the brilliant The World Is Falling Down on Verve when she began her association with Allard and recorded regularly. This disc contains a dozen tracks all recorded between 1990 and 1992. Disc three commences in 1995 and goes straight through to 2007. The latter two discs reflect the periods when Lincoln finally assumed her rightful status as a true jazz icon; individual track performances from standards to self-written tunes and folk songs are all done in her inimitable style and are well-known to fans. This set is gorgeously compiled and sequenced. As a listen, Through the Years is literally astonishing in its breadth and depth. It establishes her commitment to artistic freedom, and her fierce dedication to discipline, song, and performance. The box features liners by Gary Giddins, and great photographs, as well as stellar sound quality.