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Abbey Lincoln: Wholly Earth

Abbey Lincoln was never one to go down the middle of jazz tradition, so why start now? Wholly Earth, the latest chapter in her intriguing, left-of-center recent discography, veers in different directions without ever stretching unity to the breaking point. Lincoln’s own songcraft remains unique in jazz, a blend of soulful idealism, an unpretentious melodicism that suits her understated rambling voice, and metaphysical leanings, as on the title tune and “Look to the Star.” “Learning How to Listen” is a lovely ballad, treating maturation as a musical process. Another Lincoln original, “Another World,” is a ballad “based on a chord in a Steven Spielberg film”-being the motif of alien solidarity in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Still, some of the most memorable moments are on hoary turf-her cool, quietly penetrating reading of “Midnight Sun” (which she sang at the memorial service of her friend Betty Carter last year). Lincoln’s loose, softly embracing treatment of the chromatically tumbling melody is a thing to behold, in contrast to guest Bobby Hutcherson’s intense vibes solo. Benny Carter’s ballad “Another Time, Another Place” simmers nicely, and “If I Only Had a Brain” is a playful, but musical twist. Lincoln has a brain, a heart, and a soul, and they’re in fine, interactive working order.

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