Abbey Lincoln is an unparalleled presence: as a singer, she has been an undeniable creative force since her first recordings in 1956; as an actress she has taken on trailblazing roles; as an activist, along with her then-husband, drummer Max Roach, she helped create the jazz soundtrack for the Civil Rights Movement.
Through The Years, a new 3-CD box set compiled and originally released in France, concentrates on the latter part of her remarkable career yet covers (nearly) every corner of it. “Follow her through these three discs and you can’t help but note that they mark three phases in a musical life that makes sense now in a way it could not when it was unfolding,” writes Gary Giddins in the set’s generous liner notes. On Disc 1 alone, standards from her Liberty, Riverside and Candid albums of the 1950s and early 1960s segue into several tracks from her Impulse!, Philips, Blue Marge, Muse and Enja albums of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, where she is exploring her independence and redefining what it meant to be a “jazz singer.” On every track she is backed by some of the world’s best musicians, from Roach to Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson to Kenny Dorham, Coleman Hawkins to Cedar Walton.
Lincoln became a fairly well known singer with major supper club earnings potential when she put everything on the line with a series of personal, message-bearing recordings. “No one who heard those recordings remained indifferent,” Giddins writes. “At the time, listeners thought she was singing only about racial and ethnic pride; now it’s impossible not to hear also the issues of gender pride, of pride in being human.”
Then she stopped recording, instead appearing in films and on TV, writing songs and taking up painting – creating, but not singing. Until 1990, when she seemingly out of nowhere she released, via Verve France, The World is Falling Down, featuring arrangements by Ron Carter; this 3-CD box set includes six tracks from the LP. “It was, paradoxically, the most accomplished album Abbey Lincoln had ever made,” says Giddins, “and a prelude to still more remarkable albums to follow over the next two decades.”
What followed were the uniformly magnificent You Gotta Pay the Band, with Stan Getz in one of his last recordings; Devil’s Got Your Tongue, with J. J. Johnson and Grady Tate; When There is Love, a tour-de-force duet with Hank Jones; Timelessness, a collaboration with Bheki Mseleku; A Turtle’s Dream, with Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden; Who Used to Dance; Wholly Earth; Over The Years; It’s Me, featuring Kenny Barron; all the way through to the resplendently poignant Abbey Sings Abbey – all highlighted over the last two discs on this collection.
Through The Years is an extraordinary document of a performer who became much more than a singer.