Modern Ancestors (Afrasia Productions)
Released October 25, 2020
Grammy Nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album 2021
“I have always felt that the jazz singer by definition is associated with standards from the past century, our Ancestors. The idea of Modern is simply to give the music I write and sing the chance to be seen and heard in the now – authentic 21st century Jazz. My vocal influences include many of our great and most recent predecessors: Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Shirley Horn, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. This project pays tribute to these fine artists, and to the cultural and musical contributions from the diaspora. The Modern Ancestors who left behind a legacy and defined the sound and spirit of Jazz, the music of our time and all times.” — Carmen Lundy Los Angeles, California. Modern Ancestors. Two words with significantly different connotations that come together and remind us that not only do opposites attract, but that we are all products of those who came before us; our Ancestors can be honored and reinterpreted, continually present and very much a part of who we are and what influences us today. Such is the common thread running through Jazz vocalist and composer Carmen Lundy’s brilliant new album, Modern Ancestors. Featuring 10 self-penned and arranged tracks and a stellar band consisting of Julius Rodriguez on piano, brother Curtis Lundy on acoustic upright bass, Kenny Davis on electric and acoustic bass, Mayra Casales on percussion, Terreon Gully and Kassa Overall on drums and Andrew Renfroe on guitar, Modern Ancestors is set for release October 25th via Afrasia Productions and will be accompanied by tour dates both in the US and abroad. From the Gospel-inflected musings of “Burden Down, Burden Down” (Hello Sister Rosetta Tharpe!) to the Afro-Cuban vibes of “Ola De Calor” and “Affair Brazil”; from the Geri Allen-inspired tracks “A Time For Peace” and “Clear Blue Skies” to the cynical humor of “Jazz On TV” and the terror and sadness of “Flowers And Candles”. From the beautiful love songs of “Meant For Each Other” and “Still” to the tropics-inspired “Eye Of The Storm,” Modern Ancestors takes the listener on a musical journey that traverses a multitude of cultures, emotions and generations and is at the same time unlike any album Carmen has recorded in the past and yet remains so true to her craft. Simultaneously with her music, Carmen is also an accomplished visual artist and is currently at work on a gallery exhibit of her art. Self-trained and working in a variety of mediums ranging from oil to mixed-media sculptures with found objects, Lundy’s oeuvre is highly imaginative, creative and visually striking, and features a variety of subjects ranging from musicians to reflections on the African American experience to abstract images. Several examples of her art can be seen in this release here: https://spaces.hightail.com/space/vPxE5fv0KO – with many more featured in a gallery on her website.
with commentary by Carmen:
1. Time For Peace is a song I’ve worked on for years. The inspiration behind the lyrics came rather suddenly as I observed the human condition in the early days of the 21st century. I have always wanted to explore vocal improvisation while doubling with another instrument. It was Geri Allen who inspired me to consider using synth keyboard with vocal jazz concepts and improvisation. The idea to pair with a synth felt very natural. 4:10
2. Burden Down, Burden Down Burden Down was written in the late 90’s. I was reminded of the hymns and gospel music I heard in church growing up as a child in a deeply religious family. I can recall watching my mother and her group The Apostolic Singers working out the harmonies in rehearsal, then seeing the result as they slay everyone in the congregation with a fierce, grooving praise. I was just beginning to record 8track ADAT in the studio and made a quick demo of the tune. I was having a difficult time in LA and struggling to remain consistent with my performance and recording life while faced with serious illness in my family. 3:58
3. Ola De Calor is heat wave in Spanish. Afro Cuban music has always been an influence on my writing and arranging as I am a native South Floridian and was exposed to the Cuban culture and the Afro-Cuban music growing up as well as sharing the stage with many Latin American musicians including Cuban percussionist, Mayra Casales, who joins me on this project. I want to call out the spirits – a tribute to our modern ancestors. When you hear Curtis playing in the transition, he conjures up the spirit of the great Cachao. I wanted to mix Spanish and English lyrics and infuse it with an Urban American groove. I have never been to Cuba – this song will hopefully supply two first-class round trip tickets to Havana. 6:22
4. Flowers And Candles was inspired by a news story about the terrorist attack on the city of Paris in 2015. Streets laden with memorials where people laid flowers and candles to express their sorrow for the innocent lives lost, and to consider the lasting impact these incidents have on our children. I wanted to approach this song with an orchestrated expansive feeling. 4:18
5. Jazz On TV or ( Looking For Jazz On TV ) is questioning why we see little or no jazz in television programming and in multi media. Sounds funny but it’s true. I think it is time to do something about that. This song has a sense of humor with a bit of satire. 4:28
6. Meant For Each Other harkens back to the mid eighties when I was just beginning to seriously consider singing original songs only. I, along with many other vocalists, songwriters and composers, was busy making gigs in and around New York City and performing our own tunes. I arranged this song based on changing harmony and chord progressions in the intro, while staying true to the original melody and lyric written by Julie Raynor and Marilyn Redfield Castilaw. Laid down with a soulful, timeless groove. 4:26
7. Eye Of The Storm the name of this song says it all. Born and raised in a sub-tropical climate like Miami, Florida, I’ve certainly seen my share of huge storms. It seems the greatest of storms may still be in front of all of us. 9:39
8. Clear Blue Skies … inspired by my late great friend Geri Allen. While this is a very simple song with a bright feeling of positivity, this is a nod to her approach to composition. I love her deep understanding of harmony and the subtle way she creates melodies inside polytonality. 3:30
9. Affair Brazil is my way of returning to one of the most musical and breathtakingly beautiful cities in Brazil I’ve ever visited. To feel the rhythms and let the musicians feel free to play exactly what makes them feel good…Terreon, Julius, Kenny, Mayra, Andrew on electric and myself on nylon string guitar. Somehow it all comes down to making you feel good and feel like dancing. 4:48
10. Still as still is. Alive, growing, here. A song for the greatest love I have ever known, shared in this time in this life. 6:03
Carmen Lundy: vocals (1-10), background vocals (1, 2, 3, 5, 9), nylon string guitar (6, 9), rhythm guitar (2), tambourine (2), synthesizers (1, 2), orchestrations (4, 6, 8, 9, 10), Fender Rhodes, keyboards (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9)
Julius Rodriguez: piano (1-10)
Curtis Lundy: acoustic upright bass (1, 3, 4, 10)
Kenny Davis: electric bass (2, 3, 7), acoustic bass (5, 6, 8, 9)
Terreon Gully: drums (1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10)
Kassa Overall: drums (2, 5, 8, 9)
Andrew Renfroe: guitar (2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10)
Mayra Casales: percussion (2, 3, 7, 8, 9)
All songs composed and arranged by Carmen Lundy,
except “Meant For Each Other” by Marilyn Castilaw / Julie Raynor
Recorded July 8-10, 2019, at Stagg Street Studio and Afrasia Studio
Produced by Carmen Lundy and Elisabeth Oei
Recorded and Mixed by Don Murray
Mastered by Paul Blakemore
Carmen Lundy treads her own path. Not for her the water-treading predictability of so many jazz singers, forever recycling the songs of 80 years ago. She writes her own richly textured material, and it doesn’t fit neatly into the swing/ballad/latin straitjacket. Nor does she stick with a tried and tested band: she’s kept it fresh by replacing all the musicians who played on her previous outing (the classy Code Noir, from 2017). Modern Ancestors features two young musicians of exceptional talent – Andrew Renfroe on guitar and Julius Rodriguez on piano. Lundy is also ably supported by brother Curtis Lundy and Kenny Davis, who share bass duties, plus Terreon Gully and Kassa Overall doing likewise on drums, plus Mayra Casales on percussion. Carmen herself chips in on guitar, percussion, synthesizer and Fender Rhodes, as well as providing her own backing vocals, and co-producing the album, and doing the sleeve artwork.
The vibe this time is a little mellower than the distinctly urban Code Noir – late night, let’s say. The album’s atmosphere is largely created by Julius Rodriguez’s sweet, rippling piano (listen to him on Flowers and Candles or the final track Still) and Andrew Renfroe’s tasty, Steely Dan-like guitar fills. Although she can get feisty when she wants to, as on the extended Eye of the Storm, Lundy’s default singing voice is relaxed and sophisticated, and covers a massive range, as well as a variety of styles: on Meant for Each Other, for example, she sounds like a black Joni Mitchell. And on Jazz on TV she adds her own smooth backing vocals to the refrain. Eye of the Storm – as tempestuous as it sounds – is followed, appropriately by Clear Blue Skies, with puttering drums from Kassa Overall and gentle, latin-style bass from Kenny Davis.
Just like its predecessor, this album – Carmen Lundy’s 15th – has become a fixture on my CD player: I just love her hip, expressive voice and slick, idiosyncratic, contemporary songwriting. She’s been around for quite a while, but the word “veteran” does not in any way describe who she is or what she does.
Peter Jones (London Jazz News)