Abbey Lincoln: Blue Monk (2006)


Blue Monk


Abbey Lincoln (vocals)


Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve 9847030)

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Abbey Lincoln (vocals), Larry Campbell (guitar),

Scott Colley (bass), Shawn Pelton (drums)


Composed by Thelonious Monk & Abbey Lincoln


Recorded: New York, September 25-27, November 17, 2006


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Abbey Lincoln

In converting from chanteuse to provocateur, Abbey Lincoln became a terrible scold. The former Ebony magazine cover girl (June 1957), extolled therein for her "striking physical resemblance (vital statistics: 36-24-37)" to all-American pin-up Marilyn Monroe, and whose upcoming Riverside LP That's Him! would boast a cover photo of the luscious Miss L. practically falling out of her dress, had within two years reinvented herself. In 1959, Ebony's sister publication Jet announced "The New Abbey Lincoln," who "resented the role of glamour girl." According to Jet, "just as the doors of swank cafes were opening to her," Abbey balked. "I really don't fit in," she explained. "I'm a black woman and I have to sing about things I feel and know about—jazz." Comparisons to Marilyn Monroe were jettisoned; white standards of beauty no longer obtained. "I demand that I be respected as a dignified Negro woman," demanded the erstwhile "tan Venus."

By 1961, Abbey's attitude had so metamorphosed through militant feminism and racial victimization that her rendering of "Blue Monk" took on the self-righteous severity of a lecture by Emma Goldman. For her album Straight Ahead, Lincoln paired her own socially reproachful lyrics with Thelonious Monk's apolitical tune, and even her wordless singing of the melody following Coleman Hawkins's solo became somehow taunting and accusatory. Too much 'tude, Dude.

Forty-five years later, at age 76, Ms. Lincoln revisits "Blue Monk" with less drama but dramatically superior results. Malice has succumbed to maturity. This is a wonderfully familial performance. And it's not just the laid-back backwoods backing. It's also in Ms. Lincoln's voice, no longer clenched-fist sisterly resentful and vindictive, but open-armed grandmotherly wise and reflective.

Of course, Thelonious himself would probably have blanched at this setting of his signature tune featuring overdubbed countrified bouzouki, Dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar and cittern slicker Larry Campbell. Back in 1957, when its composer performed "Blue Monk" on CBS-TV's all-star special The Sound of Jazz, such corn pone—officially still called Hillbilly Music—was off-limits at such blue monkeries as Greenwich Village's Five Spot Café, where country was about as welcome as Thelonious would have been on the bill of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. Yet Abbey Lincoln's down-home update is nevertheless a telling tribute to Monk's rugged individualism. And best of all, this isn't propaganda preached harshly in sunlight. It's truth told calmly by moonlight.

Reviewer: Alan Kurtz

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