Reissued several times since it originally came out on a Candid LP, this is one of Abbey Lincoln's greatest recordings. It is a testament to the credibility of her very honest music (and her talents) that Lincoln's sidemen on this date include the immortal tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (who takes a memorable solo on "Blue Monk"), Eric Dolphy on flute and alto, trumpeter Booker Little (whose melancholy tone is very important in the ensembles), pianist Mal Waldron, and drummer Max Roach. Highpoints include "When Malindy Sings," "Blue Monk," Billie Holiday's "Left Alone," and "African Lady".
In 1989, Steps Ahead consisted of Mike Mainieri on MIDI vibraharp, synclavier and acoustic piano, the young saxophonist Bendik doubling on keyboards, guitarist Steve Kahn, Tony Levin on electric bass and Chapman stick, and drummer Steve Smith. The powerful band did not have a great deal of subtlety by this era, but it helped to keep the much-maligned genre of fusion alive, mixing the sound of rock with jazz improvising.
Mulatu Astatke already has a legendary status as the father of Ethio Jazz. But he hasn't been content to rest on his laurels. Instead he's forged ahead. This album proves very different from his work with the Heliocentrics (some of whom do feature here), or with the Either/Orchestra – it's an album of what is essentially a meandering, laid-back groove that looks at music from two angles – the Western and the Ethiopian. The former gets to stretch out on cuts like the opener, the reflective "Radcliffe," and "The Way to Nice." Ethiopia raises its head on "I Faram Gami I Faram," which some luscious Addis Ababa singing, a reworking of the style that made Astatke's name, and actually of one of his old compositions.