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Marc Cary floods his love for Abbey Lincoln in piano tribute

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Marc Cary "For The Love Of Abbey" [June 11, 2013, Motéma Music]

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Abbey’s compositions are worthy of an instrumental approach, because they’re so rich and lend themselves to be interpreted as instrumentals. Abbey has been a beacon for me, and because of my love for her, I wanted to share my expression of her music.

Of all the piano players to accompany the late jazz icon Abbey Lincoln, the Grammy nominated Marc Cary was with her the longest, 12 years. He did more than learn the beauty of simple lines in melody, making each note count. He became a part of her family. He even took care of her once, when she hurt her ankle, carrying her to the hospital. When she passed away in August of 2010, a deep part of him was forever changed.

On June 11, 2013, Cary went on to release his first solo piano album, in tribute to his friend, mentor, and family, Lincoln, with “For The Love Of Abbey [Motéma Music].” Songs Lincoln once sang to sold-out crowds, her signature “Music Is The Magic,” “Another World,” and favorites she loved to hear Cary play, like Duke Ellington’s “Melancholia” (recreated on the artist’s 1998, “The Antidote”) — a good 14 tracks—are found here.

This album — a 2013 NPR Music Jazz Critics choice — takes some getting used to. Cary’s classical Baroque Renaissance flourish requires closer inspection, frequent listens, and infinite patience. This isn’t the album to pop in the car on the way to a soccer practice and back, or a dance number to mindlessly groove on. This is the opposite of easy listening, in the grandeur scope of the voluminous movements, which often crests in a tsunami wave of beautifully rendered, impossibly stacked notes.

A lot of notes. If Mozart and Bach fused into the Age of Jazz...

Cary’s poetic recital is flowery but not too terribly superfluous. It’s as if Cary’s trying to dig into the show of the pieces to the soul, and straining to pull out what he remembered of Lincoln’s magic with melody, ease of purpose. Sometimes, he does get lost in his love, as it takes awhile for him to get to her point.

The dark, minor tonalities of “Down Here Below The Horizon” take the listener to another place. But it takes a lot of time to get there. More classical in the beginning, the song builds excruciatingly slowly, as Cary plays to a crawl, teasing essence before signaling the crest in a series of surging, rolling thunder – where jazz comes in – that threaten to obliterate.

“Conversation With A Baby” has Cary tripping over himself getting from one note to another, as if climbing an impossible hill toward something better, maybe toward a better glimpse of Lincoln’s view. The listener has to wait until more than the halfway point to hear the funk in the Lincoln’s voice as elicited on Cary’s confused classical, warp speed. But it’s there.

“Melancholia” is Cary’s piece, one Lincoln loved hearing him play on the piano. The Duke Ellington song is on Cary’s 1998 album, “The Antidote.” It best captures Cary’s feelings about his late mentor and a jazz icon. On Cary’s piano, those feelings are at once fleeting and fast, conflicted and complex, a jangling war between whirling melody and restless, dissatisfied discord… before resolving at the end to slow down, get all those notes out of his system, and let go.

Marc Cary’s “For The Love Of Abbey” is this side of classical, with the jazz in the details at the heart of each tribute song. But you have to sit still, lean in, and really work for the payoff. It’s there somewhere between the flourish and the stanza. “The recording is a constant flirtation between her spirit and mine, resulting in a rich, sonic palette, highlighting Abbey’s artistic brilliance note by note,” Cary said. Every note.

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