Code Noir – Carmen Lundy

By Lance Wright, Razorfish Reviews

9 out of 10 stars

Carmen Lundy is a singer/songwriter, actress, and academic. She’s won considerable critical accolades and has long since established herself as one of the best jazz vocalists working in the second half of the 20th century and beyond. Despite this, however, she still creates and pushes on with all of the zest and need for self expression of a young performer. Her latest studio release Code Noir, based on its title alone, suggests a romantic, maybe even slightly doomed, late night cityscape in smoke filled rooms with your heart at stake. The music never arrives at this mood in a thoughtless or tacky fashion; instead, Lundy and her collaborators are supremely talented at knowing just what these compositions need to achieve that mood in the most artful manner possible. Code Noir takes no shortcuts and even a cursory listen reveals these are among the best musicians today working in any genre. Over the course of a dozen songs, Lundy reminds us time and again what a world class singer can do with excellent material and massive, but tastefully used, chops backing her up.

Most musicians couldn’t pull “Another Chance” off. This is an unique song in how it refuses to ever be pigeonholed into the typical mold and, instead, drifts through the listener’s consciousness, never settling in any particular way. It invokes considerable atmosphere, however, and Lundy’s voice is practically a spectral presence in the song. “Live Out Loud” is much more nominally conventional, but Lundy’s musical cohorts are musicians who are afraid to challenge themselves and listeners alike with varied musical approaches around a given theme. Lundy, considering the song title, gives an upbeat, affirmative vocal well in keeping with the song’s themes of self-empowerment. “Black and Blues” is a more fiery number, both musically and vocally, tackling social themes with a personal slant few tunes of its ilk possess. Lundy is a talented writer, as well, and there are numerous turns of phrase in this track deserving of praise. Her voice is a pyrotechnic marvel – she winds her way through these lines with nary a hint of a stumble.

“Whatever It Takes” has some of the opener’s understated ambiance, but there’s definitely much more of a discernible shape working here. Lundy has some moments of real delicacy on Code Noir and this outing ranks high among them. The music takes on a wider swing with “Second Sight” and its light bluesy influences even touch Lundy’s vocals. She locks tightly into the vocal melody and follows the band with a lot of playfulness in her phrasing. Jeff Parker’s guitar stands out here as well. “The Island, The Sea and You” is one of Code Noir’s musical highlights. Virtually everyone in the band is putting on a clinic here, yet still playing as an ultra cohesive unit, and Lundy matches their level of excellence with a lyric and vocal that crowns the track. The light island influences in the music bring an added level of richness without ever drawing too much attention to themselves. “Kumbaya” ends the album on a dramatic, but never stagy, note. This is a song about higher ideals, in some respects, and Lundy’s vocal is well matched with some occasional backing vocals lending added emphasis to the song’s lyrics. It’s another instrumental showcase as well and closes Code Noir on quite a rousing note.