The Legendary Voice of Jean Carne Re-emerges with Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammed on ‘Jazz Is Dead 12’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammed, co-founders of the group and series Jazz Is Dead, began their Series 2 with Jazz Is Dead 011, a compilation of artists, including the legendary jazz and R&B vocalist Jean Carne.  Now with Jazz Is Dead 012, they have devoted a full album to her. The two multi-instrumentalists and acclaimed producers have brought several overlooked artists into the spotlight.  We have not covered all of them but did so for Gary Bartz (JID06), Joao Donato (JID07), and Brian Jackson (JID08) on these pages. As Younge says, “A lot of luminaries have been forgotten, and we want to get people excited again. For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than that.” Muhammed adds, “We do this work with reverence, for the people who came before us, that’s our intent.” 

The concept is to pair the two with a series of revered jazz musicians, in a bid to create fresh tracks that employ the same original vintage recording equipment (analog) that was used back in the ’60s and ’70s. Los Angeles-based Younge has a reputation for coating his music with a gritty veneer—his personal discography includes Something About April, a soundtrack to a non-existent ’60s blaxploitation flick. As a member of A Tribe Called Quest, Shaheed Muhammad became renowned for the way the group skillfully repurposed deep jazz loops into golden-era hip-hop tracks. Here Younge plays his usual wide array of instruments while Muhammed plays electric bass and Mekela Session plays drums. Vocalist and co-lyricist Loren Oden join Carne on the last two selections.

Vocal histrionics, acrobatic moves, and a blurring meld of genres characterize the unique five-octave vocals of Jean Carne (AKA Jean Carn). Now 75, Carne is known mostly for four distinctive phases of her career – her four jazz fusion albums with then-husband Doug Carn (the featured artist on Jazz Is Dead 5) in the early ‘70s, hits with Gamble and Huff on Philadelphia International in the mid-70s, her early ‘80s work on Motown, and late 80s R&B work on Omni and Atlantic. All told, her work spans spiritual jazz, Philly soul, disco, and R&B. She has worked with Azar Lawrence, Phyllis Hyman, Michael Jackson, Lonnie Liston Smith, Earth, Wind, & Fire and many others, leaving an indelible mark across the jazz, R&B, and pop spectrums.

The seven tunes are written by Carne, Muhammed, and Younge with a couple of other co-writers sneaking in on select tracks. From the very first notes of the opening “Come As You Are” Carne’s otherworldly vocals soar over Muhammed’s filthy bassline and Younge’s guitar riffs in her impossibly high octave range, quickly reminding us that she still has those acrobatic gifts. “People of the Sun” and “Black Rainbows” are the kind of Afro-futurism we associate with Sun Ra as her voice just keeps lifting you higher and higher while the keyboards echo those cosmic strains from the early ‘70s.  Carne continues her cosmic quest on the percussion-heavy R&B of “My Mystic Life” with phrases such “come and find life on Mars” and “listen to the cosmos.”  “Visions’ begins with Younge’s Fender Rhodes, the spacey, trademark Jazz Is Dead sound that colored their collaborations with Roy Ayers (JID002) and Brian Jackson (JID008).

Then, as so many of those ‘70s songs did, she pays homage to summer – the backyard BBQs, music in the streets, the allure of the ice cream truck, and getting a hosing from your favorite fire hydrant all set to the sounds of Kool & The Gang, Roy Ayers, KC & The Sunshine Band or Sly & The Family Stone – take your pick but put Carne’s “The Summertime” right alongside. She saves yet another terrific track, “Black Love,” for the closer. In the vein of the two themes, love and spirituality, she points to the power of community. The vocals seem suspended in the air against a backdrop of B3 and synths, with one long sustained note to close it out.

While this may be a celebration of perseverance, it heralds the re-emergence of Carne – so beautiful and so joyous that she lifts the listener higher with each track.

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