Kendra Shank always performs stimulating and thought-provoking music, but this project is something particularly special. Abbey Lincoln has been writing songs (both music and lyrics) for decades, yet few other vocalists have covered more than one or two of them. Shank, who became a friend of Lincoln's by the mid-'90s, is one of the few exceptions, adding a few of Lincoln's songs to her repertoire and showing that she could do them justice. On A Spirit Free, Kendra Shank, her regular rhythm section, multi-reedist Billy Drewes (who is a major asset throughout) and occasionally guitarist Ben Monder and Gary Versace on accordion, explore a full set of Abbey Lincoln songs. Shank really captures the spirit of the music, digging into the words, phrasing some of the numbers like Lincoln yet putting her own personality in the music too. While "Bird Alone" and "Throw It Away" are the best known of the selections, the other songs also feature insightful lyrics about the world that are worthy of the very best folk music, with haunting melodies and unusual chord structures. The arrangements are creative and advanced, the musicians come up with fresh ideas, and Kendra Shank has never sounded better, though her previous CDs were also excellent. A Spirit Free is a gem, and one of the best jazz vocal albums of 2007.
AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow