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Carmen Lundy at Lakeland Jazz Festival

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Carmen Lundy Quartet
Lakeland Community College
42nd Annual Lakeland Jazz Festival
Kirtland, Ohio
February 22, 2014

It had been well over five years since Grammy award-winning vocalist Carmen Lundy had been in the vicinity of Cleveland and she certainly made up for her absence by delivering a powerhouse performance as the Saturday evening headliner for the 42nd annual Lakeland Jazz Festival. As heady a performer as she is in the true tradition of jazz vocalizing, it would not be an exaggeration to state that many in the audience had also come to check out the talents of the legendary Patrice Rushen on keyboards and Ralph Peterson on drums.

Over the course of almost two hours, Lundy would weave her magic spell on a sampling of her originals, culled from over a dozen albums that she has recorded since her debut set, Good Morning Kiss, in 1985. One thing was clear throughout; Lundy is the genuine article when it comes to jazz vocalists. Too many today claim to be jazz artists and they merely rise to the ranks of singer with an instrumental backing ensemble. Lundy tantalizes with the phrasing of her melodies, like a horn player, and tells a story with each one of her performances. She is invested in the spirit of the moment and her body language and movement hints at her deep obligation to the music.

Lundy had the crowd hanging on to her every word and by the third number, "Blue Woman," it was evident that her ensemble mates were locked in tight for the euphoric ride ahead. As Lundy waved her hands in the air, Peterson punctuated her phrases with kinetic fills of his own. In fact, much of the credit goes to the drummer when it comes to the overall arc of each of the performances. A pleasingly busy and forceful drummer, Peterson allied his performance to Lundy's needs and one would be hard pressed to think of another drummer who could have so supremely fit the bill.

You could hear a pin drop during Lundy's several ballad performances. One of the best of the night was her "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." The gentle melody buoyed by Rushen's crystalline piano touch, Lundy recalled the simple beauty of Maya Angelou's singular poetry. It was also after this number that Lundy took the time to engage with the audience. They felt her graciousness and in response, Lundy would remark on a particularly boisterous section as being her "amen corner."

One of her most popular numbers, "Walking Code Blue" brought the house down with its modal groove. Rushen ripped off one her best piano solos of the evening and proved that she still has the chops that had once brought her on the scene as a teenage prodigy. For the first time, this reviewer could hear the Tyner influence in her modal approach. Peterson and bassist Kenny Davis nailed this one with a sync locked accompaniment that Lundy unmistakably found inspiring.

Now in full stride, Lundy would bring forth "Dance the Dance," an ebullient number marked by the chorus line of "what it feels like to be free." She would have a ball with this refrain as she went around to each band member with her mic so that they could vocalize this phrase. It was a special moment, indeed. When the crowd then rose to their feet after this performance, there was no choice but for Lundy and company to respond with an encore. "All Day All Night" was the perfect foil for the occasion, concluding an absolutely glowing evening of jazz and leaving one to wonder why Lundy still falls under the radar of most jazz critics and followers.

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