VA Virginia Schenck | Aminata Moseka: An Abbey Lincoln Tribute

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Aminata Moseka: An Abbey Lincoln Tribute

by VA Virginia Schenck

Reimagining music from past to future.
Genre: Jazz: Jazz Vocals
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Talking to the Sun
4:15 $0.99
2. Another World
6:59 $0.99
3. Bird Alone
3:42 $0.99
4. The River
8:42 $0.99
5. Learning How to Listen
6:06 $0.99
6. Blue Monk
3:43 $0.99
7. Caged Bird (Poem Version)
2:59 $0.99
8. Caged Bird
5:45 $0.99
9. Being Me
6:30 $0.99
10. Throw It Away
7:34 $0.99
11. The Music Is the Magic
4:58 $0.99
12. When I'm Called Home
4:04 $0.99
13. Wholly Earth
5:44 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Liner notes by Thomas Cunniffe

When Abbey Lincoln held the recording session for her album, “Straight Ahead”, one of her invited guests was Thelonious Monk. Lincoln had written lyrics to “Blue Monk” and she wanted the composer’s blessing. Monk, who was usually skeptical about vocalists, gave his approval to Lincoln’s words, and stayed for most of the session. Monk was enamored with Lincoln’s voice, and when the session was nearing its end, Monk walked over to Lincoln, and whispered in her ear, “Don’t be so perfect”. As usual, Monk’s perception was impeccable: in the months preceding that February 1961 session—and moving forward in her career—Abbey Lincoln strove for intense unfettered emotion rather than polished vocal performances.

At the beginning of her career, Lincoln downplayed her status as an African-American woman, performing smooth renditions of Tin Pan Alley standards. Had she continued in that vein, she would barely be remembered today. But her personal and professional relationship with drummer Max Roach, and the couple’s increasing participation in the Civil Rights Movement led Lincoln to make dramatic changes to her music. Her vocal tone became raw and abrasive, while her repertoire shifted toward songs which commented on Black heritage. Her artistic breakthroughs came with two albums recorded for the independent Candid label: “We Insist!: Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite” and the aforementioned “Straight Ahead”. On both albums, Lincoln was matched with a group of forward-thinking musicians (including Roach, Booker Little and Eric Dolphy) and her forceful, expressive vocals presented the Black Experience in a way never heard before. Lincoln and Roach continued to work together throughout the 1960s, with Lincoln devoting part of her time to acting. She received her African names on two separate trips to the continent: She was dubbed Aminata by Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, and Moseka by the Minister of Information of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Lincoln’s recorded legacy was capped in a series of late-career recordings for Verve, where she performed several of her original compositions with some of jazz’s best instrumentalists.

Atlanta vocalist Virginia Schenck never heard Lincoln in person, but she was fascinated by Lincoln’s original music and her dynamic performances. Schenck recorded her debut album on August 14, 2011— exactly one year after Lincoln’s death—and that CD included two of Lincoln’s compositions (“The Music is the Magic” and “Learning How to Listen”) along with “Long as You’re Living”, a song Lincoln premiered in 1959. Schenck studied Lincoln through audio and video recordings, and in discussions with Lincoln’s friends and sidemen, including vocalist Kendra Shank, pianist James Hurt and drummer Terreon Gully. She has added several more Lincoln compositions to her repertoire over the past two years, and has now compiled them into the present tribute CD. It is a remarkable achievement: Schenck celebrates and expands the legacy of Abbey Lincoln without copying Lincoln’s sound or the original arrangements.

As proof of the above statement, I invite you to listen to the two poetry-influenced tracks on this album: “The River” and “Caged Bird”. While Lincoln’s two recordings of “The River” are potent combinations of verse and music, Schenck’s arrangement increases the intensity by transforming the music into a free improvisation. Kebbi Williams’ alto sax offers running commentary to Schenck’s impassioned delivery, as her long-standing rhythm section of pianist Kevin Bales, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Marlon Patton create a whirlwind of activity that evokes both a rushing waterway and a rush-hour highway. On “Caged Bird”, Schenck offers both the original Maya Angelou poem and Lincoln’s song, which displays how Lincoln adapted Angelou’s words to suit the needs of her music. These two tracks represent a new direction for Schenck, but regardless of whether you’re hearing her for the first time or if you’ve heard her previous albums, the shock value is substantial because these tracks are so different from what surrounds them (for example, the funky “Blue Monk” and the confessional “Being Me” frame the adventurous “Caged Bird”.)

While the remaining tracks might be a little more accessible than those discussed above, they are no less compelling. I love the arrangement on the opener “Talking to the Sun”. Using the “rising sun” motive from Lincoln’s lyrics, Schenck’s approach evokes the coming daylight with an introduction that shimmers like dewdrops, followed by a succession of choruses which grow in volume as the sun gradually warms the Earth. “Another World” focuses on an understated conversation between Schenck and Jordan, complimented by soft atmospheric sounds from Bales and Patton. Patton’s insistent backbeat on “Bird Alone” brings a fresh urgency to a song Lincoln generally performed as a ballad, but it’s more than just a clever switch-up: listen to how Schenck emphasizes the key words in the lyric in an effort to understand this bird’s story. Lincoln compares music and life lessons in “Learning How to Listen”, and Schenck’s intimate reading of the verse is one of the highlights of the album. Again, Lincoln’s recording of this song was as a ballad, but Schenck’s medium swing arrangement adds another dimension, as it epitomizes the joy of making music.

“Throw it Away” has been covered by many singers in recent years, but Schenck’s version stands out because she takes a less insistent approach to the lyrics—she realizes that the message comes through without any assistance—and she spices up her arrangement with a variety of complementary styles. “The Music is the Magic” builds admirably, as Schenck’s recurring vocal offsets solos by the rhythm section. At the peak of the arrangement, Schenck launches into her only scat solo on the album. That might seem strange on an album so informed by improvisation, but Lincoln and Schenck share a common interest in non-traditional forms of vocal improvisation. Lincoln’s most famous example was on the astounding “Triptych” from “Freedom Now Suite”; Schenck’s lower-key approach can be found in the little bird calls on “Caged Bird”.

The author Reza Aslan once said, "The arts provide a universal language that breaks down the walls and allows us to peer through the barriers that separate us as different ethnicities, different nationalities, [and] different religions." I can find no better example of this theory than the last two songs on this CD. Close examination of Abbey Lincoln’s lyrics to “When I’m Called Home” and (to a slightly lesser extent) “Wholly Earth” reveal images of America’s racial struggles. Not only did this music speak to Virginia Schenck, who is of a different race and generation than Lincoln, the message was also powerful enough—and abstract enough—that Schenck could sing these words with true conviction. These are not Black songs or White songs, they are human songs, and Virginia Schenck has collected them into a tribute to the eternal spirit of Abbey Lincoln.

THOMAS CUNNIFFE is a free-lance writer who resides in Denver, Colorado. An award-winning author, he is the founder, publisher, principal writer and editor of In addition to writing about music, he is an experienced vocalist in both the jazz and classical fields. 



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