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Ran Blake & Christine Correa: Down Here Below

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Few contemporary singers are better suited to an Abbey Lincoln tribute than Christine Correa, who is equally at home in the classic jazz singer’s mode Lincoln started out in and whose art-song approach closely captures the pointed song-speak of Lincoln’s mature years. Teamed on Down Here Below with pianist Ran Blake, her brilliant partner on two previous albums including Out of the Shadows (2010), Correa also has the emotional range to cover the many moods of her subject.

Her artiness can get the best of her: She turns Randy Weston’s classic child’s song, “Little Niles,” into a slightly demented reflection on parenthood, perhaps taking Jon Hendricks’ lyric, “There are days when his mischievous ways make you shout,” too much to heart. And her full-throated, maximum-volume entry into the first of two bookend renditions of the title song (from Lincoln’s great 1995 album, A Turtle’s Dream) is showy. (Her closing a cappella version is more naturally affecting.)

But Correa perfectly captures Lincoln’s debt to Billie Holiday on a lilting “Bird Alone” (from Lincoln’s 1991 effort, You Gotta Pay the Band). And she breathes ’60s fire into the Freedom Now Suite extract “Freedom Day,” which segues into a potent “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Throughout, Blake feeds and balances Correa’s outsize expression with his cool Debussian lyricism and shadowy harmonies. How he makes those distanced single notes at the end of the sublime “Bird Alone” haunting and uplifting is something even he may not know.

Originally Published