Carmen Lundy at Ronnie Scott's, London
The Guardian U.K., John L Walters
February 21, 2002
A big slice of jazz lies in the art of the trio, the fluid interconnection of improvising piano, bass and drums. It is always fascinating to hear what different stories these three acoustic instruments can create together, whether on their own or behind a charismatic star.
This week's double bill at Ronnie Scott's provides a graphic case study. If the Gary Husband Trio use mixed media, from pastels to oils and dense collage, then Carmen Lundy's accompanying trio work in charcoal, creating big gestures and strong outlines.
Featuring Victor Lewis on drums, Anthony Wonsey on piano and the singer's brother, Curtis Lundy, on bass, they take a free-wheeling, hugely confident approach to everything they play, including several tunes from the album they largely wrote themselves, This Is Carmen Lundy.
The challenge, for Lundy, is to make her own material sound as durable and malleable as the jazz standards she sings so expertly. Her voice is such an amazing instrument that it's easy to forget what she is singing. She hits each note with the perfect timing and intonation of a great sax soloist.
At one point during her energetic reworking of Star Eyes (a favourite from her Old Devil Moon album), she articulates a harmonic change with a spontaneous laugh. It's a genuine laugh that speaks of her pleasure in making good music with friends in sympathetic surroundings. But it's also a jazz laugh: in time, in tune - just not quite in the place you would expect to hear it.
When Lundy sings her own songs, such as Now That He's Gone, This Is the End of a Love Affair and All Day, All Night, the music in fact becomes more direct, more accessible. The band have fun with her funky, bluesy sequences and they pull the tunes around a bit, but they can't assume that the audience know the words or chords the way they can for Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Lady.
The songs are straightforward, sincere and swing like crazy. And the more the band dig into the new shapes of Lundy's material, the more comfortable they sound developing a new chapter in her career, and perhaps in the art of jazz singing.