Abbey Lincoln

Identifying a jazz singer as the heir to Billie Holiday is almost always an act of hyperbole. In Abbey Lincoln's case, doing so is merely imprecise. Born of the same straight-ahead approach as Holiday, with a similar range and a melancholy patina, she is often compared to the tragic chanteuse. But in her latest release, It's Me, she tells stories that are all her own.

Of the ten compositions on this disc, which include standards such as "Skylark," five are of her own making: "They Call it Jazz" may one day be a standard itself. Then there's title track, "It's Me, O Lord (Standin' in the Need of Prayer)," an African-American spiritual delivered in a spare duet with pianist Kenny Barron. The album's tone shifts down to the even slower-grooving original "They Call it Jazz." She delivers this anthem in her signature style, rendering the notes with an intensity built from restraint and deliberate hesitation, followed by an inevitable, inexorable release.

Lincoln, now in her early seventies, left the limits of technique behind long ago. At the edge of her voice there is a tearing, something frayed but purposeful, the sound of life endured.

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Victor Cruz