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Carmen Lundy shows off her own, mature songbook

September 12, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Despite the implied survey of contemporary composers suggested by the title of Sunday night's "Jazz and the New Songbook Artists" program at the Ford Amphitheatre, the vast majority were written by singer Carmen Lundy, the show's star.

Scattered among them were one song by pianist Geri Allen and others from members of Lundy's band: alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, guitarist Phil Upchurch, bassist (and brother) Curtis Lundy and trombonist-conch shell player Steve Turre.

But the bulk of the songs were hers, and the combination of arching melodies, colorful harmonies and thoughtful lyrics she brought to "Something Happened" (dedicated to Shirley Horn), "Seventh Heaven," "Gift of Love" and "Never Gonna Let You Go" was the stuff of good songwriting. The sardonic wit of "Gossip" revealed her talent for penetrating social commentary as well.

Is that material ready to take its place alongside that of the Gershwins, Porters, Berlins, Kerns and other masters of the Great American Songbook? Not yet.

But it certainly merited this performance, and many more.

Lundy's performance was the product of a talent that has ripened fully.

Her far-ranging, fluidly mobile voice roved through and around the melodies, and her innate sense of theatricality illuminated every layer of drama in her story-driven songs.

The only question left unanswered is why this singer is not better known to the wider jazz audience.

She was impressively aided by an ensemble that actually merited an "all-star" labeling. Watson, Upchurch and Turre each did their thing with spunk and spirit: Watson was both virtuosic and lyrical on his "Time Will Tell"; Upchurch defined his excellence as a blues player on his "Six to Four"; and Turre once again made remarkable music with conch shells on his "Chairman of the Board."

Other participants in this entertaining evening may not have had featured numbers, but they made the most of their solo spots: Regina Carter's fast-fingered violin work; Robert Glasper and Anthony Wonsey's crisp, hard-swinging keyboarding; the propulsive drumming and percussion of Terri Lyne Carrington, Mayra Casales and Marvin "Smitty" Smith; the bass rumblings of Lundy, Robert Hurst and Sekou Bunch; the jazz harp stylings of Lori Andrews; the efficient trumpeting of Greg Diaz and the warm backup singing of Krystal Davis Williams.

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