For the Love of Abbey, pianist Marc Cary’s new solo album, is a tribute to jazz legend Abbey Lincoln who passed away in 2010. Beginning back in 1994, Cary spent a dozen years playing with the singer, a longer tenure than any of her other accompanists. They had a connection, and for Cary they still have that connection. “When I recorded this record Abbey was truly there in spirit. I could feel her presence very strongly. It was an emotional experience for me. I love Abbey.” You can hear the love in his music.
It’s one thing to accompany a great singer, but it’s quite another to sit alone at the piano and be the man. One requires a collaborator; the other, a star. Cary’s 12 year stint with the singer shows he is a skillful collaborator. For the Love of Abbey shows he is a star. He plays with a simple honesty that puts the focus on the music where it belongs. He describes how he used to visit the singer and listen to her play. “I would incorporate her approach in my playing. It worked well because in some cases I would play it exactly like her. … She used to say, ‘It’s a simple song—it’s a simple song.” Cary’s solo piano performances are his emphatic endorsements of her music’s gorgeous simplicity.
Of the 14 songs on the album, all but three are Lincoln compositions. Cary adds two of his own pieces, “For Moseka” and the echoing dirge, “Transmutate.” He also includes Duke Ellington’s “Melancholia,” a tune, he explains Abbey loved to hear him play and one that he had previously recorded for his 1998 album The Antidote. It is played with a forceful intensity that highlights the power of the emotion.
Other standout tracks include the shimmering “My Love is You,” “Throw It Away,” and my own particular favorite, “Another World.” The song is a melodic powerhouse played with a passion that would make Chopin envious. Cary’s playing is a revelation. There is a dynamite take on Lincoln’s iconic “Down Here Below.” By the way, for comparison sake, a 2010 video of Cary accompanying Lincoln is available on YouTube. Indeed these are only the top of the list—there really isn’t a track on the album that isn’t a standout.
Marc Cary is one of the finest jazz pianists working today. Abbey Lincoln’s music brings out the best in him.