Marc Cary – For the Love of Abbey ★★★★

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Motéma | Marc Cary (p). Rec. March 2012

The soulful pianist Marc Cary is a long time New York resident who has worked with everyone from high-level American mainstream post-boppers such as Stefon Harris and Roy Hargrove (who featured on some of Cary’s own recordings in the mid-1990s) through to the hip hop legend Q-Tip and neo-soul diva Erykah Badu. But right up there with the career highlights so far are his alliances with jazz vocalists, and not just any jazz vocalists: Cary spent a few years in the 1980s and 90s on tour with Betty Carter before starting a 12-year stint with Abbey Lincoln that lasted until 2006. That’s where this recording comes in; it’s a solo piano set dedicated to Lincoln – the singer and her songs – who passed away in 2010.

Released on the Harlem-based Motéma label, Cary’s playing is packed with drama: orchestral-like ripples and flourishes, richly sustained chords, tremolos and pedal points, but the pianist is also grounded in the earthy rhythms and incantatory folk-melody of the African-American tradition, with McCoy Tyner an important influence on his playing. Yet at the same time he is able to capture the essence of Lincoln’s 13 songs here, and their piercing melancholy (Duke Ellington’s ‘Melancholia’ previously released by Cary, is the odd exception but he says Lincoln loved to hear him play it), much of it drawn from her post-1990s recordings for Verve. The most well known among them are the wonderful, and much loved, ‘Music is the Magic’ and ‘Throw it Away’. The best advice would be to get to know something of Lincoln’s back catalogue first for a more thorough understanding of where Cary’s passionate love letter to the lady is coming from.

– Selwyn Harris