Unsentimental Journey

Actress and Singer-Songwriter Abbey Lincoln Reinvents Herself Yet Again

Jazz's spring schedule should whet the appetite of anyone with a pulse. In addition to veterans who are never far away for long (the Heath Brothers, Lee Konitz, Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Ahmad Jamal, Phil Woods, Ray Brown, Marian McPartland, Ron Carter, and Cecil Payne, for starters) and some who show up less frequently (Art Davis and Dave Burrell are working up a project for the Knitting Factory in late March), jazz's mainstream continues to renew itself. The generation of players that came into focus over the past quarter-century shows undeniable staying power—even if it hasn't produced stars in the conventional sense. What's missing are the titans of the old cutting edge, the (booga! booga! booga!) avant-garde. We need, while it is still feasible, a festival-conference that brings together George Russell, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Murray, the Art Ensemble, Gunther Schuller, Sam Rivers, Muhal Richard Abrams, Archie Shepp, Roswell Rudd, Evan Parker, and their many descendants who represent the rebel spirit in jazz.

Of lapidary excellence, there is no shortage. Thumb-in-your-eye anarchy has faded away. The need is not for avant-gardism per se, but rather a fundamental desire to stir things up. Consider the ageless Abbey Lincoln, an exemplary rebel who will be the subject of a Jazz at Lincoln Center triptych March 7 through 9 (Alice Tully Hall, Broadway and 65th Street, 721-6500). In 1957, she wore a dress made for Marilyn Monroe in The Girl Can't Help It, and seemed destined for a thoroughly apolitical career on the fringe of Hollywood and in supper clubs. Yet three years later, she courted brickbats for her work with Max Roach on We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. For a decade, she rotated between music and acting, including the lead in Michael Roemer's landmark film, Nothing but a Man. She taught drama and traveled to Africa and, then, nearing 60, when many wrote her off as a remnant of another time, she completely remade herself as a singer-songwriter of immense strength and vision. Sentimentality is not in her repertory. Lincoln has become an icon the old-fashioned way: She spurned the alternatives.

March 5-10
Iridium, 1650 Broadway, 582-2121

Dear Abbey: jazz diva Lincoln
photo: Carmen L de Jesus
Dear Abbey: jazz diva Lincoln

It would be hard to imagine a more elegant rhythm team anywhere than Lewis Nash and Christian McBride, who collaborated with Stefon Harris, the most stimulating vibes player in 30 years, in last season's Classical Jazz Quartet. Those three now regroup for another echo of MJQ instrumentation with Chestnut, a pianist who can draw on gospel, blues, jazz, and the conservatory to uncover melodies of originality and grace.

March 5-17
Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, 255-4037

The superb trumpet player's led small groups and large, and has appeared on myriad recordings, but to fully appreciate him you need to hear him live, as he gets caught up in a solo and appears to levitate the room. His current quintet includes his longtime pianist Larry Willis, a stellar accompanist, and altoist Jesse Davis, who in Bird-like mode can be ferociously lyrical.

March 19-24
Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, 576-2232

After many months of refurbishing, an admirable venue returns in time to celebrate the 10th anniversary of an association of composers and musicians who have built up a large and impressive body of work, as well as a large repertory of pieces by Herbie Nichols and others. The week begins with cofounder Ben Allison leading Seven Arrows and the Herbie Nichols Project, and continues with bands under the direction of Michael Blake, Frank Kimbrough, Ted Nash, and Ron Horton, before ending with a reprise of the Nichols group.

April 2-7
Blue Note, 131 West 3rd Street, 475-8592

How do you like your bop alto—supple and probing or lean and aggressive? You get both here. Konitz, one of the few great figures from the '40s who is still playing at all, let alone at a consistent peak, always likes to live dangerously, and this week's trio with Paul Bley and Gary Peacock promises a particularly impromptu voyage. After they spark your little gray cells, Woods and his quintet will go to work on your feet and heart, swinging with slashing authority and enhancing ballads with romantic daring.

April 4-6
Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, 581-3080

The last of the great bop baritone saxophonists will be 80 before the year is over, and yet has managed to attract a new audience with frequent gigs during the past several years. He has retained his warm and hearty sound and an ability to scamper through changes like a fox through the brush. This edition of his quintet gets an infusion of star power from the incomparable bassist Ron Carter.

April 9-14
Iridium, 1650 Broadway, 582-2121

Once castigated for channeling Miles, Roney has long since answered that criticism by facing up to it. Some of his best work, in that context and others, has been with pianist Geri Allen, who happens to be his wife, and the pleasure of hearing them together again is underscored by their recruitment of three men who actually worked with Miles (in the kaleidoscopic period, 1967-71) and often play with Roney and Allen: Gary Bartz, Buster Williams, and Lenny White.

Next Page »
New York Concert Tickets