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Abbey Lincoln: Sophisticated Abbey: Live at the Keystone Korner

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Anyone who knows Abbey Lincoln’s history is aware of the sizable recording gap-a barren stretch from 1962 to 1972 followed by close to two decades of very sporadic live and studio sessions-that preceded her vibrant comeback in the early ’90s. Any unearthed Lincoln material from that fallow period is a welcome find. This 54-minute date, captured at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner in 1980, is a particularly great discovery.

A month prior, Lincoln had been in Paris, where she also made a live recording (released as Golden Lady, since re-released as Painted Lady), working with a quintet anchored by saxophonist Archie Shepp. In San Francisco, Lincoln narrows her accompaniment to piano (Phil Wright), bass (James Leary) and drums (Doug Sides). Wright, with whom she’d frequently collaborated in the late ’50s, dominates throughout. In fine voice, her debt to Billie Holiday fully evident, Lincoln paves a circuitous musical path. She carries over just two tracks-her own “Painted Lady” and Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady”-from the Paris set list. She adds standards, including a medley-leading “Sophisticated Lady,” her then relatively new melting-pot anthem “People in Me,” the Perry Como hit “It’s Impossible” sung in English and the original Spanish, and nods to two heroes: Holiday, with a mellow “God Bless the Child”; and Oscar Brown Jr., with a muscular, Sides-driven “Long as You’re Living.” This stellar addition to the Lincoln canon is made all the more precious by flawlessly clear sound quality.

Originally Published