Never a vocalist to focus solely on the Great American Songbook, but rather focussing on what’s going on around us by writing her own lyrics, singer Carmen Lundy has come up with twelve new songs for her “Code Noir” album. Her plea to “wait awhile” until things will maybe get better on the mystical opening track “Another Chance” sets the pace for her truly original and all-encompassing record.
Accompanying her again on piano, like on her last album, is Patrice Rushen. Also on the map: Ben Williams on bass, Jeff Parker on guitar, and Kendrick Scott on drums. Carmen herself plays keyboards and guitar and Elisabeth Oei is on backing vocals. Her positive outlook continues through her “open up your mind” plea on “Live Out Loud”, another one of those typically flowing soul/jazz midtempo groovers which almost always have this special, graceful aspect. It is smooth in the best sense of the word. But Carmen never shies away from commentating the current political and social climate and its challenges to face and solve them. Her “Black And Blues” is the perfect showcase for displaying her as a modern-day preacher – the electric guitar at the end is almost like a warning.
I like her much better though when she is in soothing modus like on the beautiful “Whatever It Takes”, a warm and uplifting paean of praise. For the jazz vocal purist, a song like “Afterglow” is certainly like a breath of fresh air and the musicianship (and this includes Carmen’s vocals of course) can only be described as superb throughout. Her love songs are not simply the pretty, sweet and cute tales, but rather more intricate stories circling around the topic and she always comes up with little twists and turns like on “Second Sight” and its background vocal arrangement. Pretty cool stuff. The thick, fat groove provided by keys, piano, and vocals on the opening of “The Island, The Sea And You” is hard to resist. The tune flows along with Patrice accentuating the driving force of one of my personal highlights of the set.
With “I Keep Falling”, Carmen continues her lushly executed, soulful poems on yet another midtempo gem that brings out the majesty in her art. Same applies for “I Got Your Number” which even though it appears to have this at first slightly disturbing keyboard carpet underneath, it never gets to the phase where it actually busts the overall sound. I’m really into her songs where she uses the keys sparsely to set individual marks and ignites attention, like on the sassy “You Came Into My Life” which also has a pretty cool, but too short guitar solo thrown in. Carmen is back on her mission to spread hope and positivity with “Have A Little Faith” where she puts that line into perspective with her second phrase “have a little patience”. Could be transferred to all kinds of people. The closing track “Kumbaya”, a throbbing voyage through all kinds of genres, is Carmen’s dedication to her family and a plea to humanity, according to the press release which also explains the title “Code Noir”: “Code Noir actually refers to the first law ever written by a person in power of a sovereign nation/empire – the King of France Louis XIV – the first law to disallow and make illegal the integration of the African race into white European society.”
Carmen plays Scullers in Boston on March 10th and Knight Concert Hall in Miami on March 17th. More dates to be announced.