Focusing on albums we more or less overlooked in the last quarter, this is the first one we want to review: singer Carmen Lundy‘s 16th album “Fade To Black” was released in late September and right from the start, with “Shine A Light”, she proves once again why she rates among the most innovative, important and versatile vocalists of our time. It’s a song about all the hospital workers who cared about millions of people during one of the worst health crisis we had to endure. A beautiful and strong statement, with her repeated ‘thank yous’ adding impact and emphasis.
But she not only deals with social or political issues, but also tackles love stories as well. Her “So Amazing” is both intricate and mellow, both heartfelt and on the loose, thanks to some great work from guitarist Andrew Renfroe, and pianist Julius Rodriguez. I really dig the organ right at the beginning of “Daughter Of The Universe”, a song about women’s rights to vote, both in the past and the current situation, in tandem here with the track “Ain’t I Human”, referring to Harriet Tubman, the social activist and abolitionist. Here, Carmen is accompanied by a brass section consisting of Giveton Gelin and Wallace Roney Jr. on trumpet and Camille Thurman on tenor sax.
There are a few pandemic-inspired tracks here, like “Lonesome Butterfly” about shifting priorities and values, and “Transition (To A Promised Land)” about her youngest brother who died of Covid-19 before a vaccine was available. In her songs, Carmen always clearly avoids the typical songbook-like themes and notions of a jazz vocalist, rather zooming in on “different approaches to harmonic progressions, extended forms, and subtle rhythmic concepts while providing plenty of space where lyrics and melodies sing and tell stories without necessarily feeling the need to present preconceived ideas about vocal jazz, harmonies or rhythm.” And there is the bittersweet album closer “Rest In Peace”, another family-related story about her sister and her aunt both losing their fights with Covid-related illnesses.
“Spell Of Romance” is another beauty, complete with affectionate backing vocals, a moody and atmospherically dense paean of love. Carmen also tackles police brutality on “Say Her Name”, a disturbing and brutally honest way of trying to deal with what’s going on in the communities where too many people have lost their lives because of random attacks by the police and how and why this is still happening in the 21st century. Both “Privacy” and “Reverence” deal with social media and all its weird effects and disturbing influences on our daily lives. Whereas the former comes along softly and hopeful, the latter is more disintegrating and bursting.
Carmen also created the cover to her latest album, which is nominated in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category for the 65th Grammy Awards. She plays at Jazz at The Oxford in Bend, Oregon, on January 13th and 14th.