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Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, February 13, 2007
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Product Description

Kendra Shank: voice, kalimba
Billy Drewes: soprano & tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Frank Kimbrough: piano
Dean Johnson: bass
Tony Moreno: drums, percussion
Ben Monder: guitar
Gary Versace: accordion

Abbey's fabled career is too well documented to require much rehearsal here: she has been a jazz singer for half a century (Abbey Lincoln's Affair appeared in 1956), a film star, and a powerful voice for civility and civil rights. Yet not until the 1990s did she begin to receive recognition as an outstanding songwriter, words and music. A Spirit Free is the first album by another singer devoted exclusively to the Abbey Lincoln songbook. It won't be the last, but it will remain the standard by which its successors are measured.
Kendra broached the idea for the album in March 2002, after Abbey's magnificent triptych of concerts at Lincoln Center. Those performances served to display the diversity and ingenuity of her catalog while throwing down a gauntlet to those who would explore it. Whatever qualms Kendra had were allayed when she asked permission of Abbey, who pointed out that nothing is more "valedictory" for a composer than for others to perform her songs. (Gary Giddins, liner notes)

Recognized as "one of the top jazz singers around today" (Scott Yanow, L.A. Jazz Scene), Kendra Shank's warm voice and subtle improvising style have drawn enthusiastic response from fans and the media. Her adventurous, genre-bending approach is influenced in part by her early roots as a folk singer-guitarist, a residency in Paris, and studies with pioneering vocalist Jay Clayton. Shank's critically-acclaimed debut CD, Afterglow (Mapleshade, 1994), was co-produced by jazz legend Shirley Horn. This was followed by Wish (Jazz Focus, 1998), which charted on jazz radio, was named "Top 10 of the Year" in Jazziz magazine, and put Ms. Shank among "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" in the Down Beat International Critics Poll. In 1999 Shank formed her current New York ensemble and featured them on her radio-charting CD Reflections (Jazz Focus, 2000) which made "Top 10 of the Year" lists in The Boston Globe and Newsday. This ensemble is also featured on her current release, A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook (Challenge Records, 2007). Shank has appeared on NPR's JazzSet and Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz and performs internationally in clubs and festivals. She was guest guitarist on Abbey Lincoln's CD Over The Years (Verve, 2000) and has been a vocal guest with Bob Dorough, Jay Clayton, and Peter Leitch.


"A striking presence ... her musicianship is powerful." -- Wall Street Journal

"A superbly skilled vocalist, Ms. Shank interprets jazz and pop liberally, but with an abiding respect for melody." -- New York Times

"Shank is supremely talented, innovative and at the same time readily accessible ... there's no one else quite like her." -- Village Voice

"Shank sounds like sunlight shining through a stained-glass window, her crystalline tone illuminating each song. ... she's definitely an original." -- JazzTime

"Shank's delectable voice--warm-toned, fine-grained, quietly sexy--sets her well apart from the crowd." -- Time
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 13, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Challenge
  • ASIN: B000MEWOX0
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,736 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Amongst the great old-time jazz singers, probably none is more underrated than the great Abbey Lincoln. Unsurprisingly, this is the first Abbey Lincoln tribute album ever. How fitting that the bearer of that tribute is Kendra Shank, one of the most underrated singers on the scene today and one who calls Ms. Lincoln a Mentor.

In his liner notes, Gary Giddins predicts that this won't be the last Abbey Lincoln tribute album, but will be the standard by which future ones will be measured. I don't disagree, but I'd put it this way: this album is to Abbey Lincoln like Carmen McRae's "Sings 'Lover Man' and Other Songs of Billie Holiday" is to Lady Day. Both are albums which match up very favorably to the best albums of the tributee--and that's saying one hell of a lot.

What makes this album, consisting of difficult yet accessible, heavily African-influenced, music so good is the musicianship of the 7 musicians. Check out the raw emotion on "The World Is Falling Down", a 9-11 memorial, for example, or the sensitive interplay among the musicians on "Down Here Below." "World" just chokes me up, every time I hear it.

Kendra Shank sounds great, to be sure. She has a clarion, bell-ringing timbre to her voice; but rarely has a singer sounded more musical than here. Her intonation (for the most part), her diction, her phrasing, her emotion, her breath control (check out her last notes on "I Got Thunder" and "Being Me"--wow!!) and her sound are just spot on, consistently. Whether the rhythms are tricky ("I Got Thunder" or "The Music is the Magic") or the chord changes are difficult ("Bird Alone"), she knocks it all out like nothing could be easier. She is not merely a "singer with the band"; she is a musician.

And what musicians she has to play with!
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Format: Audio CD
A wonderful new cd by a brilliant vocalist who deserves much more notice. Surrounded by some of this country's finest musicians Kendra Shank pays tribute to mentor Abby Lincoln: and she does Abby as only Kendra could. Kendra's vocal range is amazing, her phrasing impeccable, she has produced a cd worthy of many listenings. Each time you put it on you'll hear something new. This isn't easy background music - this is the stuff you put on, stop for a few minutes and just get lost in the music. I highly recommend this CD.
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Format: Audio CD
"You made me just the way to be:
A heart with feeling, eyes to see,
A strong embrace, a simple hand,
A spirit free that says, "I can" ~ Down Here Below ~ Music and Lyrics by Abbey Lincoln

Released a year ago and declared as one of the best jazz vocal albums of 2007, "A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook" is Kendra Shank's latest recording consisting of a set of songs written and composed by Abbey Lincoln, whom Ms. Shank described as "one of the great songwriters who writes and sings about our lives with intelligence, compassion, spiritual depth, and wisdom." She also believes that the material in this wonderful CD contains "healing songs in a time when the world seems to have lost its way; songs that celebrate the human spirit and remind us who we are."

Ms. Shank perfectly expressed what to expect in this recording of eleven astute and meaningful songs that she interpreted in such a uniquely exquisite fashion with the expert support of a group of equally talented musicians -- some of them are multi-instrumentalists, Frank Kimbrough (piano), Ben Monder (guitar), Dean Johnson (bass), Gary Versace (accordion), Tony Moreno (drums, percussion) and Billy Drewes (soprano/tenor sax, bass, clarinet, percussion).

This beautiful presentation starts off with one of my favorites from this collection, "The Music Is The Magic," a song with an exotic-flavored-melody. Here, she uses a kalimba, an instrument in the percussion family originated in Africa -- the sound it produces is simply entrancing and truly "magical." This is just the perfect opener to entice a first-time-Kendra Shank-listener, like me, to listen with undivided attention and focus on her vocals and how she delivers.
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I have now listened to this CD at least a dozen times, and I'm still so stunned--and still so excited about the new things I'm finding to love about it--that I'm sure I'll be editing this review forever! This CD has truly changed the way I listen to music, and though I won't pretend to understand all that Kendra Shank is doing musically in every each track, I love every minute of this CD.

Shank has an unusually strong alto voice, and she can do virtually anything with it, from singing African-style chants against an unusual drumbeat, as she does in the intro to "The Music is the Magic" (much in the style of Miriam Makeba), which opens this CD, to impassioned songs of the human condition and every person's need to be free, as she does in "Down Here Below," my favorite track. She can sing a seemingly simple, quiet song like "Bird Alone," originally an homage to Miles Davis by Abbey Lincoln, and make it universal in its sentiments. "The World is Falling Down," written and recorded by Lincoln in 1990, becomes in her hands, eleven years later, an anthem for 9/11, and I defy anyone who listens to this not to end up weeping.

Shank is as much of an original as Abbey Lincoln is. A true musician, her sensitivity to the mood and the message of Lincoln's songs is revealed in her subtlety, rather than in her bravado. She succeeds in speaking directly to her listeners' hearts, through her ability to transform a "traditional" Abbey Lincoln tune (if there is such a thing) with new rhythms or phrasing.
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