Carmen Lundy ‘Code Noir’ CD (Afrasia) 4/5

This latest offering from a jazz singer, who has long enjoyed an intimate relationship with her British audience after the rapturous reception to, ‘Good morning kiss’, back in the mid-1980s, is a subtle dislocation from the norm insofar as the music is devoid of any horns. Instead the fine electric guitar of Jeff Parker creates a more spaced out feel (Anita Baker tried a similar formula in her 1990 album, ‘Compositions’ to stunning effect) where jazz and soul elements interact, but otherwise it is pretty much business as usual with the same attention to personalised storytelling and exquisite delivery. Accompanying the singer is a strong line-up of instrumentalists including keyboardist Patrice Rushen, Ben Williams on acoustic and electric bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and percussion.

Recorded in California, some of that guaranteed Californian sunshine has clearly rubbed off and has informed the music itself, with a joyful and optimistic tone permeating the entire album. This is no more so than on the outstanding summer breeze of a song that is, ‘The island, the sea and you’, with wordless vocals that may possibly have been inspired by the 1970s work of Flora Purim, another adopted Californian singer, with fine electric piano accompaniment from Rushen who revels in this atmosphere. In a more intimate vein and with carefully phrased diction, ‘You came into my life’, features a lovely bassline and the most sensitive of piano accompaniment with Carmen Lundy at her sensitive. If that is the favourite song this writer warmed to on the album, then a close contender is surely the uptempo, ‘Afterglow’, where there is both real intent and urgency in the delivery and the subtlest of latinization on the drums, and wordless vocalising once again emerging.

Anita Baker terrain is explored on another ballad, ‘Whatever it takes’, and with acoustic guitar to accompany the singer, Lundy is at her most soulful in this setting. It is a late night rendez-vous that is evocatively conjured up on, ‘I got your number’, which is a delightful mid-tempo number. In stark contrast, the lovely wordless vocals of the catchy and uptempo ditty, ‘Have a little faith’, cannot fail but impress, and the tandem of guitar and piano works a treat.

As with previous album sleeves, the gatefold sleeve on this new recording reveals colour art work by the musician and a telling inscription on one painting that speaks a thousand words, ‘Colored entrance only’. A strong return to her best on this highly enjoyable listen.

[You can read our 2016 interview with Carmen Lundy here]

Tim Stenhouse