Carmen Lundy’s latest album, Code Noir, is a fantastic reminder of why she’s consistently ranked as one of the finest jazz vocal talents of her generation and still among the top talents working today. Since her initial 1978 appearances in the New York City jazz scene, Lundy has impressed the most respected critics in the genre and garnered a considerable following among jazz devotees. Unlike many in the genre, Lundy writes all her material and her vision for exactly the sound she wants to pursue is unerring enough that she consistently enlists the best of the best musicians working today to help her realize those goals. Code Noir’s twelve songs effortlessly flow into one another with an unity of sound while never lapsing into self-imitation. She’s an actress, educator, singer, and songwriter. Her multi-faceted talents are what gives albums like this much of their confident air – Lundy knows who she is and what she wants from her art.
She challenges listeners with the opening “Another Chance”. This is a sorrowful, minor key in mood song firmly in the jazz genre, but slightly ambient in the way it never quite comes together in a recognizable form. There’s a dreamy feel to it despite its darkened mood. The sentiments powering “Live Out Loud” are impossible to find fault with and Lundy’s vocal expresses them with a lot of zest and sincerity. Two of the musicians who consistently stand out through the course of Code Noir, pianist Patrice Rushen and drummer Kendrick Scott, give much to this song. Scott and Rushen duel to spectacular effect on the song “Black and Blues”, not necessarily trading off lines, but definitely inspiring and playing off each other. Lundy sounds equally inspired. She almost scats her way through these lyrics, impressively dispatching each line with enviable ease. We are in near ballad territory with the song “Whatever It Takes”, but that isn’t a bad thing. The band shows remarkable restraint in painting the musical picture for this song and gives ample space for Lundy’s vocals to inhabit. She explores her range some here and shows great ability for tailoring her voice to each new musical moment.
Guitarist Jeff Parker gets a chance to step out a little bit on the song “Second Sight” with some warm and almost lyrical blues runs interspersed throughout and Rushen’s piano excels here as well. Lundy gives her vocals a slight swing that makes them even more delicious than usual and there’s an added surfeit of passion in her phrasing that makes this performance quite memorable. There’s some more rhythmic delight coming with the song “Have a Little Faith” thanks to some actual scat singing and an incredibly soulful Lundy vocal. The album’s finale “Kumbaya” brings out some real musical firepower but uses the same relaxed approach that’s characterized so many of these songs. It opens with a bright sheen of keyboards and incorporates guitar in generous doses. The backing vocals are understated and underscore Lundy’s own. The song might have a wide social scope, but it is quite personal in some ways – Lundy is clearly singing from the heart. It’s a quality that defines Code Noir as a whole. Great artistry shaped by a tremendous heart.
by Lydia Hillenburg