Jazz icon Jean Carne lends his voice to the “Jazz is Dead” series


Jazz icon Jean Carne lends his voice to the “Jazz is Dead” series

By Blake Gillespie Art by Emma Shore June 08, 2022

When Jean Carne walked into Linear Labs, the East Los Angeles studio built and operated by Adrian Younge, and saw the two-inch tape recorders, she momentarily traveled back in time. She remembers recording with her ex-husband Doug Carn for Black Jazz Records in California; she recalled sessions at Sigma Sound Studios as a singer with Philadelphia International and creating tracks with jazz legend James Mtume, who died in January this year. Sit down with Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammed to discuss song arrangements for the duo’s 12th installment series jazz is deadeverything came back strong.

“The first thing I noticed was that it was like Mtume’s method,” says Carne. She refers to her recording experience Rebirth cycle, Mtume’s 1977 Afrocentric jazz album which featured backing from Strata East’s Stanley Cowell and former Miles Davis players like Al Foster, Pete Cosey and Michael Henderson. Like Mtume, Younge and Shaheed Muhammed gave the musicians the freedom to explore without overemphasizing structure. It was something Younge had heard once from Mtume himself. “When Mtume saw [Ali and I] performing as Midnight Hour, he talked about how our sound and what we do reminded him so much of himself, like a kindred spirit,” Younge says. “It’s a very spiritual thing.”

Carne is no stranger to creative freedom. His career is defined by exploration, applying his five-octave vocal range to spiritual jazz, disco, and R&B, while escaping the industry trappings that locked up many of his contemporaries. By the time she released her single “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” in 1978 – sampled two decades later by Brand Nubian – she had racked up nine studio albums for Philadelphia International, Atlantic and Motown, in addition to appearing on the four Black Jazz Albums released under her husband’s name. Her independence was rare in the 1970s, but Carne says she learned it from her mother, who taught her to treat recording like any other vocation. “It’s just a job,” his mother would tell him. “Don’t be too impressed.”

Jazz is dead 12 is hypnotic and mystical – sometimes brooding, but always coming back to light. The menacing bass intro to “Come As You Are” suggests trouble is brewing, but Carne glides over it, lifting the song out of concern and turning a warning into an invitation. On “Visions”, Carne perches atop a vista singing “I can see near and far / where we’re going / where we are / night and day / miles away / we can see clearly on cloudy days. “

The album sessions also brought back memories of running away with Doug Carn to Los Angeles and living at the Landmark, the same hotel where Earth, Wind & Fire lived. “My Mystic Life” is a reflection on the metaphysical teachings she received from Maurice White and the other band members. “We had a great time with these wonderful people,” she says. They were and are so ahead of their time. They always are. They were like gurus. She remembers how they introduced her to vegetarianism, taught her how to make her own formula, and gave her other advice that stays with her decades later.

Both Younge and Shaheed Muhammed were impressed with the energy she brought to the sessions. “Even with everything she’s done in her life,” Shaheed Muhammed says, “she still came to the studio like it was the second month of her freshman year of college, and she just found a group of people who are on the same shit that she’s on.

He notes how Carne’s work on that of Doug Carn baby eyes arrived during the ongoing civil rights movement, and how her father’s business was on the same street at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Carne herself was an active part of the movement in the 60s and 70s, and it was these experiences that inspired the recording of “Black Love” on Jazz died 12. The song has no lyrics – Carne just bounces and scatters freely, sometimes guiding the instruments, sometimes responding to their crescendos and diminuendos.

“It shows the beauty, genius and eloquence of African Americans,” says Shaheed Muhammed. “She still emanates that to this day. What you hear on this disc is an artist who is completely free, young and in tune with what is happening at the moment. And there are so many luminaries out there that are still alive and still have that fire in them. They just need someone to help them turn it on again.

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