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In 2021, as she celebrated 35 years as a recording artist, vocalist, pianist and songwriter Carmen Lundy was at last honored with a Grammy nomination (Best Jazz Vocal Album for her extraordinary 2019 work Modern Ancestors). A year and a half later, it seems safe to say that her latest collection, the even more epic, thematically expansive, pandemic-and-social-justice-driven Fade to Black, is on course for an encore nomination, if not more.
Unlike many female jazz greats who make their mark as vocal interpreters, Lundy’s emotionally impactful, sometimes tender, romantic and soulful, provocative and confrontational original music sets her apart — especially on this 11-track song cycle, an incisive, anthem-filled reflection/call to action inspired by the dramatic events of 2020. While sweet devotional charmers — like the whimsical, horn-fired “So Amazing” and the dreamy, sensual “Spell of Romance” — offer some personal uplift, other tracks unabashedly respond to the crises of the past couple of years.
On “Shine a Light,” Lundy crafts an improvisational jazz tribute and sincere thank you to first responders and hospital workers. The singer’s repetition of the word “power” on “Daughter of the Universe” is a confident assertion that she is indeed what the title indicates, and “Ain’t I Human” (from the hypnotic, orchestra-sweetened meditation of the same name) references an iconic Harriet Tubman women’s suffrage speech. You may also come away chanting “Say her name/Say his name/Say your name” from “Say Your Name,” a haunting mood piece dedicated to the families of the victims of police brutality — complete with a tragic roll call. On a more personal level, the album’s true emotional centerpieces, “Transition (To a Promised Land)” and “Rest in Peace,” take completely different tonal approaches to mourning cherished loved ones who died during the pandemic. — Jonathan Widran