Picks and Pans Review: The World Is Falling Down

updated 12/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Abbey Lincoln

Like major comets, great vocal jazz recordings don't come along often. This one, matching a spunky, seasoned, one-of-a-kind singer with a distinguished supporting cast in top form, brings to mind Billie Holiday's autumnal but glowing 1957 live TV jam with Coleman Hawkins and Count Basie.

As a singer, Lincoln, 60, shares certain traits with the immortal Lady Day: a voice of velvet and corduroy, insouciant delivery and a style reflecting a strong social conscience, tender romanticism and 'tain't-nobody's-business-if-I-do willfulness. Lincoln's individuality has sometimes led her to daring interpretive extremes, but on this record—her first for a U.S. label in more than 20 years—her singing is relaxed, certain and emotionally rounded. She came to the session last February suffering from a bad cold, but you can't tell that by listening. Her voice here has a crackling vivacity that brings lyrics to life and a tactile sauciness that dances the syllables over the beat. Perhaps the band was her chicken soup: Clark Terry on trumpet and flügelhorn, Jackie McLean and Jerry Dodgion on alto sax, Alain Jean-Marie on piano, Charlie Haden on bass and "Smilin' " Billy Higgins on drums. Ron Carter did the deft arrangements. McLean, his famous fat, burred tone in brilliant fettle, solos memorably, as if he were the singer's alter ego.

Holiday, who co-wrote and recorded a shattering song about racism ("Strange Fruit") and published a searing autobiography, was a multidimensional woman who would have flowered even fuller in a more liberated age. If she were around today, she might be as eclectic as Lincoln, who has starred in films opposite Sidney Poitier and Ivan Dixon (and was recently seen as Denzel Washington's shrewish mother in Mo' Better Blues) and who wrote music or lyrics for half the eight songs on her new record. The songs ("How High the Moon" is the best known) are bold, bluesy, beautifully melodic—in sum a discourse on life and love from a well-traveled, still passionate soul. When she sings in the title cut (one of her own), "The world is falling down/ Hold my hand, hold my hand." the sound is of comfort offered rather than sought. (PolyGram/Verve)

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