This is the singer’s first Ronnie Scott gig since 2010, MC Paul Pace tells us – I catch the second set. Carmen Lundy projects a powerful virtuosity, but though this isn’t a Billie Holiday “less is more” aesthetic, like Holiday she sings the words as if they meant something. Her voice is rich and deep, her mic control sophisticated. There are echoes of Betty Carter, and parallels with contemporary greats René Marie, Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson. She’s a diva with a superb young band that she’s trained. It’s an act, but she’s a great artist-entertainer.
Her latest release, Fade To Black, follows Changes. But the album, with a bigger ensemble and not totally convincing electronic effects, contrasts with the live performance. The band aren’t mere accompanists, but – as with Betty Carter’s – are fully part of the action. Superb pianist Julius Rodriguez is the main soloist; Andrew Renfroe on guitar also solos, and Lundy listens intently to both. Ben Williams is on bass and Terreon Gully is on drums.
All the songs are originals, and Lundy is an impressive composer. Her lyrics don’t match the music in quality, but that’s not unusual; there are only about three scat solos in the whole set. Shine A Light is followed by the modal composition Issues; Why Does It Feel Like I’m In Love, by Dance The Dance. Never Going To Let You Go is from Lundy’s 1985 album; it has a modal vamp and then runs through a cycle, on the Wayne Shorter model. Lundy is not only a musical artist, but also a sculptor, and Daughter Of The Universe is named after one of her sculptures, she explains. It opens with a bass solo on which Williams switches to electric bass. Rest In Peace, the only weak number, remembers the victims of Covid.
Trials And Tribulations is followed by an encore. The singer has amazing energy – the set lasts a remarkable 95 minutes. She’s celebrating a 50-year professional career, and asks if anyone was here for her first London date. A long-time fan says “Yes”, to which she replies “We look good, don’t we?” Her fans whoop and whistle behind me. It’s best to catch her live – let’s hope it’s not 13 years till her next UK gig.
Carmen Lundy, Ronnie Scott’s, London, Friday, 11 August 2023