By Christopher Loudon
Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (Afrasia)
Musicians as diversely gifted as Carmen Lundy, who has excelled as a vocalist, composer, lyricist, arranger, guitarist and keyboardist for more than three decades, remain few and far between. There was Ray Charles, and there is Joni Mitchell, but very few others. And Lundy, like Mitchell, is also a superb painter, often crafting the artwork for her album covers, including the multihued self-portrait that adorns Code Noir. It’s an apt image, as Lundy again offers deeply personal perspectives—as a woman, as an African-American and simply as a keen-thinking adult—on the human condition. The title comes from a 17th-century law, passed by Louis XIV to legalize slavery in French colonies, including Louisiana, which provided slaves with both greater rights and harsher strictures.
The company, including pianist Patrice Rushen, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Kendrick Scott, is top-drawer; the settings, spanning jazz, blues, soul, samba and pop, are diverse. All dozen tracks are Lundy originals. Each, as delivered in her distinctive voice—a remarkably liquid instrument, luxurious as cashmere yet sturdy as cast iron—is a fine-crafted playlet. She is a masterful weaver of dreams, the themes here extending from the romantic satisfaction of “I Got Your Number” and self-empowerment of “Live Out Loud” to the sharp social commentary of “Black and Blues” and its gentle counterpoint, “Whatever It Takes,” a hope-infused ode to unification.