Ulysses Owens Jr. – Songs of Freedom


Title: Songs of Freedom
Artist: Ulysses Owens Jr.
Label: Resilience Music Alliance
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: March 15th 2019


Ulysses Owens is one of the most sought after jazz drummers around today, having worked alongside living legends such as Wynton Marsalis, Maceo Parker, Kurt Elling and Christian McBride, with whom he won his first Grammy Award. On top of his outstanding work as a side man, Owens is also making great strides as a band leader, with two studio albums, as well as positive influences in the jazz community through his work as an educator. Now, with the release of his third album, Songs of Freedom, Owens provides his commentary on the American political climate through the songbooks of three female icons of the turbulent 1960s: Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Joni Mitchell. Continue reading

Abbey Lincoln – Sophisticated Abbey

Abbey Lincoln
Title: Sophisticated Abbey

Artist: Abbey Lincoln

Label: HighNote

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: August 21, 2015


Sophisticated Abbey provides a new window to a previously under-documented period in jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln’s career. This set, recorded live in 1980 at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, showcases Lincoln’s sensibility during the ‘70s and ‘80s, moving away from her signature songs about social issues and sonic experimentation towards a revival of classic vocal swing.

Lincoln, a singer who just sings the songs, rather than embellishing them as an instrumentalist or a flashier vocalist might, interprets the tunes on this record with a restrained sensibility, backed by only a rhythm section of Phil Wright (piano), James Leary (Bass), and Douglas Sides (drums). The set includes some of Lincoln’s original compositions, such as “Painted Lady” and “People in Me,” but mostly consists of songs composed or popularized by other artists, including numbers composed by Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” and even Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady.”

Lincoln and company treat all of the songs gently, simply playing through the form rather than turning them into vehicles for extended improvisation, staying true to the vocalist-fronted small band idiom. This set is an interesting record of Lincoln’s mid-career activities, but ultimately falls short of her more adventurous classic album releases.

Reviewed by Matthew Alley

Ghosts Appearing through the Sound: Kosi Sings Abbey

Title: Ghosts Appearing through the Sound: Kosi Sings Abbey

Artist: Kosi

Label: Self-produced

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: August 6, 2015


Based in New York City, jazz and R&B singer Kosi (a.k.a. Akosua Gyebi) tackles the music of Abbey Lincoln on her third full-length release, Ghosts Appearing Through the Sound. An artist who makes her way across the country predominantly performing at house shows, Kosi has assembled a competent rhythm section to record the complex and difficult music of Lincoln.

YouTube Preview Image

There are some very nice interpretations on this album, but Kosi has a tendency to over-sing and her band makes strange choices at times, such as the seemingly missing hi-hat during the conventional medium-tempo swing on Lincoln and John Coltrane’s composition “Africa.” One of the challenges with interpreting Lincoln’s songbook is the attention to detail that comprised an essential part of Lincoln’s interpretations of her own songs. Some of this detail is missing in Kosi’s approach, which seems more designed to showcase her chops than serve the songs themselves. The difficulty of effectively performing this repertoire is likely one reason there aren’t many tribute albums dedicated to Lincoln’s music. The songs are carefully constructed and interpreting them requires the proverbial scalpel rather than the hatchet. It is impossible to duplicate Lincoln’s delivery and quite difficult to set up a compelling original interpretation of much of this material.

Overall, Ghosts Appearing Through the Sound is somewhat underwhelming, and this project was likely a bit beyond this band’s interpretive reach. This release certainly reflects effort on the part of its creators, but unfortunately falls short of being especially compelling, musically or emotionally.

Listen on Spotify here

Reviewed by Matthew Alley