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Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook
Kendra Shank
Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook
Genres: World Music, Jazz, Pop, Broadway & Vocalists
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #1

Kendra Shank: voice, kalimba — Billy Drewes: soprano & tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion — Frank Kimbrough: piano — Dean Johnson: bass — Tony Moreno: drums, percussion — Ben Monder: guitar — Gary Versace: accordion — Ab...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Kendra Shank
Title: Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: Challenge
Original Release Date: 1/1/2007
Re-Release Date: 2/13/2007
Genres: World Music, Jazz, Pop, Broadway & Vocalists
Styles: Vocal Jazz, Vocal Pop, Traditional Vocal Pop
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 608917325324


Album Description
Kendra Shank: voice, kalimba
Billy Drewes: soprano & tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Frank Kimbrough: piano
Dean Johnson: bass
Tony Moreno: drums, percussion
Ben Monder: guitar
Gary Versace: accordion

Abbey's fabled career is too well documented to require much rehearsal here: she has been a jazz singer for half a century (Abbey Lincoln's Affair appeared in 1956), a film star, and a powerful voice for civility and civil rights. Yet not until the 1990s did she begin to receive recognition as an outstanding songwriter, words and music. A Spirit Free is the first album by another singer devoted exclusively to the Abbey Lincoln songbook. It won't be the last, but it will remain the standard by which its successors are measured.
Kendra broached the idea for the album in March 2002, after Abbey's magnificent triptych of concerts at Lincoln Center. Those performances served to display the diversity and ingenuity of her catalog while throwing down a gauntlet to those who would explore it. Whatever qualms Kendra had were allayed when she asked permission of Abbey, who pointed out that nothing is more "valedictory" for a composer than for others to perform her songs. (Gary Giddins, liner notes)

Recognized as "one of the top jazz singers around today" (Scott Yanow, L.A. Jazz Scene), Kendra Shank's warm voice and subtle improvising style have drawn enthusiastic response from fans and the media. Her adventurous, genre-bending approach is influenced in part by her early roots as a folk singer-guitarist, a residency in Paris, and studies with pioneering vocalist Jay Clayton. Shank's critically-acclaimed debut CD, Afterglow (Mapleshade, 1994), was co-produced by jazz legend Shirley Horn. This was followed by Wish (Jazz Focus, 1998), which charted on jazz radio, was named "Top 10 of the Year" in Jazziz magazine, and put Ms. Shank among "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" in the Down Beat International Critics Poll. In 1999 Shank formed her current New York ensemble and featured them on her radio-charting CD Reflections (Jazz Focus, 2000) which made "Top 10 of the Year" lists in The Boston Globe and Newsday. This ensemble is also featured on her current release, A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook (Challenge Records, 2007). Shank has appeared on NPR's JazzSet and Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz and performs internationally in clubs and festivals. She was guest guitarist on Abbey Lincoln's CD Over The Years (Verve, 2000) and has been a vocal guest with Bob Dorough, Jay Clayton, and Peter Leitch.

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CD Reviews

The Underrrated Extolling the Underrated
Rick Cornell | Reno, Nv USA | 03/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Amongst the great old-time jazz singers, probably none is more underrated than the great Abbey Lincoln. Unsurprisingly, this is the first Abbey Lincoln tribute album ever. How fitting that the bearer of that tribute is Kendra Shank, one of the most underrated singers on the scene today and one who calls Ms. Lincoln a Mentor.

In his liner notes, Gary Giddins predicts that this won't be the last Abbey Lincoln tribute album, but will be the standard by which future ones will be measured. I don't disagree, but I'd put it this way: this album is to Abbey Lincoln like Carmen McRae's "Sings 'Lover Man' and Other Songs of Billie Holiday" is to Lady Day. Both are albums which match up very favorably to the best albums of the tributee--and that's saying one hell of a lot.

What makes this album, consisting of difficult yet accessible, heavily African-influenced, music so good is the musicianship of the 7 musicians. Check out the raw emotion on "The World Is Falling Down", a 9-11 memorial, for example, or the sensitive interplay among the musicians on "Down Here Below." "World" just chokes me up, every time I hear it.

Kendra Shank sounds great, to be sure. She has a clarion, bell-ringing timbre to her voice; but rarely has a singer sounded more musical than here. Her intonation (for the most part), her diction, her phrasing, her emotion, her breath control (check out her last notes on "I Got Thunder" and "Being Me"--wow!!) and her sound are just spot on, consistently. Whether the rhythms are tricky ("I Got Thunder" or "The Music is the Magic") or the chord changes are difficult ("Bird Alone"), she knocks it all out like nothing could be easier. She is not merely a "singer with the band"; she is a musician.

And what musicians she has to play with! Her usual quartet with Frank Kimbrough (p.--one of the finest in the business), Dean Johnson (bs--probably the most-featured non-singing musician here, if there is one) and Tony Moreno (drums) are joined by Ben Monder (g.--also one of the finest around), Billy Drewes (saxes and bass clarinet), and Gary Versace (acc.--including a very charming duet with Ms. Shank, "Natas"). The musicianship of these 7 is stunning. Let me give you but two examples:

Ben Monder is capable of blowing anybody off the bandstand with his playing. But on "The Music Is the Magic", he plays his intricate, note-filled lines so softly that you have to listen carefully to hear him. Like the others, he is going for the gestalt, which is an African sound. The idea is to sublimate the ego and let the sound enhance what everyone else is doing. He does so.

And on "Throw It Away", Kimbrough dampens the strings on his piano so that the instrument sounds like a marimba--because the sound of a marimba better works with the sound the musicians are trying to create for this song than the sound of a piano. But then he plays the piano like Bobby Hutcherson or David Samuels, for example, might play the marimba. Again, the idea is to sublimate the ego and go for the gestalt.

The only thing that bothers me about this exquisite album has nothing to do with the album itself. These musicians recorded this album in early January of 2005. Kendra Shank co-produced it, and I suspect shopped it to a whole bunch of labels, not having the resources to distribute it herself, before the tiny label of "Challenge Records" bit in 2006. And even then, Challenge didn't release it until about 3 weeks ago.

It makes you wonder: how many other "unreleasable gems" like this are out there? This is true art; and if the public at large never gets the opportunity to hear it, where does that leave us as a society? I guess I should just count our blessings that this got released at all. It is truly Grammy-worthy material. RC"
Abbey Lincoln as only Kendra Shank could cover her
Bob | RI, USA | 04/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A wonderful new cd by a brilliant vocalist who deserves much more notice. Surrounded by some of this country's finest musicians Kendra Shank pays tribute to mentor Abby Lincoln: and she does Abby as only Kendra could. Kendra's vocal range is amazing, her phrasing impeccable, she has produced a cd worthy of many listenings. Each time you put it on you'll hear something new. This isn't easy background music - this is the stuff you put on, stop for a few minutes and just get lost in the music. I highly recommend this CD."
"The Music Is The Magic"
Rebecca*rhapsodyinblue* | CA USA | 03/31/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

""You made me just the way to be:
A heart with feeling, eyes to see,
A strong embrace, a simple hand,
A spirit free that says, "I can" ~ Down Here Below ~ Music and Lyrics by Abbey Lincoln

Released a year ago and declared as one of the best jazz vocal albums of 2007, "A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook" is Kendra Shank's latest recording consisting of a set of songs written and composed by Abbey Lincoln, whom Ms. Shank described as "one of the great songwriters who writes and sings about our lives with intelligence, compassion, spiritual depth, and wisdom." She also believes that the material in this wonderful CD contains "healing songs in a time when the world seems to have lost its way; songs that celebrate the human spirit and remind us who we are."

Ms. Shank perfectly expressed what to expect in this recording of eleven astute and meaningful songs that she interpreted in such a uniquely exquisite fashion with the expert support of a group of equally talented musicians -- some of them are multi-instrumentalists, Frank Kimbrough (piano), Ben Monder (guitar), Dean Johnson (bass), Gary Versace (accordion), Tony Moreno (drums, percussion) and Billy Drewes (soprano/tenor sax, bass, clarinet, percussion).

This beautiful presentation starts off with one of my favorites from this collection, "The Music Is The Magic," a song with an exotic-flavored-melody. Here, she uses a kalimba, an instrument in the percussion family originated in Africa -- the sound it produces is simply entrancing and truly "magical." This is just the perfect opener to entice a first-time-Kendra Shank-listener, like me, to listen with undivided attention and focus on her vocals and how she delivers.

This is my first Kendra Shank CD and I must admit that after listening to it three times in a row in its entirety, I can certainly say that Ms. Shank belongs to the top-notch jazz vocalists of today. I'm very impressed with how she delivers all the songs particularly "A Circle of Love," "Not To Worry" and "Down Here Below" so effortless and with a style that speak of classiness and sophistication. Hers is the kind of voice that can attract even the most discriminating ears with her impeccable phrasing and flawless reading of the lyrics. Focus your ears as she sings and swings to the infectious rhythm of "I Got Thunder" (And It Rings). This track is a showcase of her versatility in rendering a swing number with a natural approach and a lot of zest.

An emotional highlight that deeply moved me is her take on "The World Is Falling Down," which according to her had become an anthem of the shocking and heartbreaking 9/11 tragedy. "Being Me" is also a notable number done in a slow tempo that showcases her gorgeous vocals in harmony with Kimbrough's piano, Billy's tenor sax, Johnson's bass and Moreno's drums - the result is an utterly charming rendition.

In conclusion, I wholeheartedly recommend this CD for your listening pleasure. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

P.S. Three things I'm so grateful to a friend and fellow Amazon reviewer: (1) for this remarkable CD, (2) for making it possible for Kendra Shank's inscription and (3) for introducing me to a new jazz artist with an enormous talent. I'm a new fan! Many thanks to Rick, and to Kendra Shank and Abbey Lincoln as well for sharing with us your beautiful music."