JAZZ / Abbey Lincoln St Lucia Jazz Festival

And the band played on... for all the jazz diva's beautiful disdain.
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For those in search of an authentic jazz diva, Abbey Lincoln fits the bill perfectly. True, her friend Nina Simone can still throw the best wobblies and her fans obediently buy tickets for her shows in the full expectation that they will not actually take place. But, sad to say, La Simone's voice has all but gone and only the famously dodgy temperament remains, along with the wayward, occasionally brilliant piano-style. Lincoln, by contrast, can sing now probably as well as she has ever done,though for her the voice has never been the main item on the menu. Rather, she has made the very act of being a diva into her performance and anything more than that, a song or two for instance, has to count as a bonus. Dressed all in black, she takes the stage at the Cultural Centre at Castries on the opening night of the festival with a haughty, regal air and within a minute has castigated the sound engineer, ordered all the drum mikes turned off and loudly told the pianist to be quiet. She sees off the starter, "Nature Boy", with a mixture of high regard for the meaning of the lyrics and complete indifference to the line of the original melody and generally behaves as if it is she who has paid to see the audience rather than the other way round.

The band, with Michael Bowie on double-bass and the scolded Marc Carey on piano, is just about the best that her money can buy and she relies on them to take the strain constantly, often retiring from the mike to sit on a chair and gaze out at them with a mixture of ownership and admiration. At 65, she remains a formidably sexual performer and the group are treated mean to keep 'em keen, like amorous suitors to be flirted with, given a wide-eyed come-on and then unsentimentally spurned as she turns her back to them and goes inside herself once again like an African ice-maiden. When the sax star James Carter, who had opened the show, comes on to pay his musical respects, he is dallied with unmercifully and made to play for far longer that he expects.

Alternating original compositions with standards like Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz", Lincoln continues at her own self-possessed pace until suddenly she decides that enough is enough and begins to leave the stage. The crowd rushes to give her an ovation and she returns, but an almost inaudible squawk of taped music from the back of the hall offends her and she throws a wobbly. At last, she relents and sings another song but the spell has been broken and her point proved emphatically: we need her more than she needs us. Used, abused, chewed up and spat out - and loving every minute of it - we depart the presence of the diva.