A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook
**** "...Kendra Shank interprets songs that Lincoln had written and rendered in what, up to this moment, had to be considered definitive presentations..."The Music Is The Magic" blossoms in 5/4 over an ostinato that Shank plays on kalimba, around which pianist Frank Kimbrough and, on soprano sax, Drewes cast nets of gossamer sound. Freedom animates these performances." Read more.
-Robert Doerschuk, DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE (4 stars)
"It's an eminently successful tribute: respectful, even deferential, but free of the paralyzing symptoms of veneration. More important, it manages to cast new light and shadow on the songs. Ms. Shank, an emotionally forthright singer, brings care and confidence to her performance... She sounds equally at home with the worldly ache of "Down Here Below" and the percussive clangor of "Throw It Away." Her arrangements, smartly varied, make the most of an excellent backing ensemble." Read more.
-Nate Chinen, NEW YORK TIMES (Critic's Choice)
"Abbey Lincoln's songs are authoritative and wise, yet radiant with compassion and childlike wonder. Shank draws upon these qualities and her own intelligence in singing Lincoln's material. Her tribute is both reverent and creative, illuminating new possibilities for these songs and shedding new light on their composer.
-Larry Blumenfeld, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY (rating: A-)
"...she not only provides sweeping edification of Lincoln's immense ability to weave stories of warmth, majesty and, most important, empowerment, but demonstrates just how skilled an interpreter of such gloriously valuable messages Shank is." Read more.
-Christopher Loudon, JAZZ TIMES MAGAZINE
"Kendra Shank, "A Spirit Free" (Challenge) -- Smart and innovative, this New York chanteuse takes on the songbook of the eminent singer/songwriter Abbey Lincoln. Instead of being trapped by Lincoln's definitive versions, Shank lets her spirit roam, resulting in a rewarding balance of intellect and emotion. The year's finest vocal jazz album."
-Jon Bream, MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE (Best Vocal Jazz Album of 2007)
"Female jazz-vocalists abound, but Kendra Shank is a rarity. She's a risk-taker and a free-form improviser who, in her own quiet and deceptively warm and sensual way, gives an uplifting performance as a musical storyteller on this bold, unorthodox album...A Spirit Free is what the name implies: A wide open, mind-bending celebration of the human spirit from a woman's perspective...strong and evocative..."
-Tom Henry, TOLEDO BLADE
"A masterpiece." Read more.
-JAZZ THING MAGAZINE, Germany
"Shank's A Spirit Free (Challenge) uses inventive rhythm arrangements and a pilgrim's fervor to charge [the songs] with fresh urgency and cast new light on their lyrical wisdom. It's the singer, however, not those songs, that makes this rare Chicago appearance a must-see. On her four albums to date, but especially in person, Shank exudes an uncommon maturity. Her incisive phrasing lets her pierce the surface of her black-cherry voice and expose the textures within; she seems to reveal certain truths about herself and her material and to hint at more."
-Neil Tesser, Chicago Reader (Critics Choice)
"...vocalist Shank does a superb job, delving into a substantive set of challenging music and lyrics. Her powerful voice easily carries the weight of classics such as "Bird Alone" and "Wholly Earth," as she brings her own flourishes to the proceedings..."
-Bob Weinberg, JAZZIZ MAGAZINE
"You can hear her love for the music." Read more.
-Financieel Dagblad, Netherlands
"The usually fetching singer has become downright entrancing on A Spirit Free, her investigation of Abbey Lincoln's magical book. Playful romps, hard-swinging improv, African fantasias -- Shank and her capable crew (keep an ear on pianist Frank Kimbrough) know all the music's flash points, and they fire 'em up forthwith."
-Jim Macnie, VILLAGE VOICE, New York (Critics Choice)
"Maybe it's her background as a folk singer and guitarist that frees Kendra Shank to stretch jazz to such broad yet inviting depths, to paint her warm, expansive voice with such a rainbow of colors, to improvise with such a rare combination of intellect and élan, to capture the essence of a lyric with such breathtaking ease. Considering her distinctive phrasing alone, Shank is a maverick interpreter who can seemingly turn a song on its head but have the evolution make perfect sense, especially with the empathetic help of her wondrous, longtime band: pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Tony Moreno."
-Rick Mason, CITY PAGES, Mpls/St. Paul (Critics Pick)
"Shank squeezes all the melancholy drama out of the haunting torch song "Down Here Below" and treats "The World Is Falling Down" as a sort of Tom Waits-meets-circus-big-top theme. This will surely show up on many best vocal albums lists at the end of the year and will hopefully shine more light on the artistry of both Shank and Lincoln." Read more.
-Joel Roberts, ALL ABOUT JAZZ-NEW YORK
"The voice of an angel." Read more.
-Peter De Backer, JAZZMOZAIEK MAGAZINE, Belgium
"Ce mois-ci sort le premier album jamais consacré au "songbook" d'Abbey Lincoln. Il est signé de Kendra Shank, délicieuse chanteuse qui résida dans les années 1990 à Paris. Avec une grâce, elle réussit la prouesse de capturer l'essence même de ses chansons les plus profondes sans jamais tomber dans le piège de l'imitation. Bravo!"
-Pascal Anquetil, JAZZMAN, France
"The arrangements are creative and advanced, the musicians come up with fresh ideas, and Kendra Shank has never sounded better...A Spirit Free is a gem, and one of the best jazz vocal albums of 2007."
-Scott Yanow, ALL MUSIC GUIDE
**** "Shank presents Lincoln's compositions with a small-room intimacy. She prefaces "The Music is the Magic" with an ostinato played on the kalimba (an African percussion instrument) alongside a striking vocal improvisation. The bass-and-vocal arrangement of "Bird Alone" showcases the warm, glossy tone of Shank's voice, as does her duet on "Natas" with accordionist Gary Versace."
-Steve Garmhausen, NEWARK STAR-LEDGER (4 stars)
"A beautifully sung album... Not to compare with other vocalists."
"Shank smoothly navigates difficult passages, handles tempo shifts and chord changes without hesitation or vocal misstep, and can swing, sing the blues or shift into a samba sequence while maintaining control and also putting her own imprint on every number."
-Ron Wynn, Nashville City Paper
"Overall, Kendra Shank has succeeded mightily. She has worked very hard to place her stamp on each song, while still maintaining the soaring spirit of the composer. I highly recommend Kendra Shank's A Spirit Free."
-Curtis Davenport, JAZZ IMPROV'S NY JAZZ GUIDE
"The highlights are Shank's takes on Lincoln's signature ballads, "Being Me" and "Down Here Below," where her voice floats seductively over a blend of bass clarinet and accordion."
-Chris Jorgensen, Billings Gazette
"Kendra Shank doesn't sing Abbey Lincoln's songs as much as Shank inhabits them...Shank offers her transcendental vision of a life well-lived through Lincoln on terrific tracks like "Incantation/Throw it Away," which suggests that the only things in life worth treasuring are the ones a person freely tosses out -- like unconditional love."
-Steve Horowitz, PopMatters.com
"Shank's arrangements blend different voicings and instruments, often adding an instrument to the mix or rearranging the stanzas of a song to incorporate wordless vocals..."I've Got Thunder (And It Rings)" smokes from the opening note, Drewes tenor sax shadowing the vocal line as the bass and drums create a storm of their own. Kimbrough's solo comes as the tempo slows down to "walk" - his lines sound as if he's channeling Ornette Coleman or Dewey Redman with their bluesy abstract quality. "
-Richard Kamins, COURANT.COM (Hartford Courant)
"She honors Lincoln's work and captures its spirit without emulating her. Shank brings her own insight to the tunes. High points include the yearning ache that inhabits "Down Here Below," the haunting "The Music Is the Magic" and the stunning "I Got Thunder (And It Rings)."
-Ellis Widner, ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT GAZETTE (rating: A)
"Shank's forthright emotional clarity, intimate delivery and personal phrasing -- not to mention a top-flight backing band she's worked with for eight years, including the especially sympathetic Frank Kimbrough on piano -- shine new light on Lincoln's compositions, reilluminating these gems in compelling performances that deserve attention."
-Mel Minter, SANTA FE ALIBI
"AWESOME! I get given alot of cds and this one has been given MULTiple listens. The first track alone is worth the price of admission!"
-Matt Wilson, drummer