It’s a shame that bassist Curtis Lundy hasn’t had more opportunities to show off his talents as a leader. With just two recordings to his credit—Just Be Yourself and Beatitudes (both out of print)—Lundy has been known mainly as the long-time bassist of Betty Carter’s band. Carter’s band has given a number of major players the chance to hone their skills, including Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and Don Braden. While it’s too early to suggest that Lundy will step out of Carter’s shadow to join this select group, Against All Odds certainly makes a strong case on his behalf.
Playing with a great cast of musicians, including Roy Hargrove on trumpet, Bobby Watson on alto sax, John Hicks on piano and sister Carmen Lundy (the more well-known jazz musician in the family) on vocals, Lundy keeps things popping on every track. Lundy is no Charles Mingus, who is perhaps the most famous bass leader in jazz history. Against All Odds is comprised of straight-ahead jazz music: there are no wicked screechs and extended dissonant solos to engage the brain as fully as the body. But when the playing is as soulful, energetic and infectious as it is here, a more adventurous style isn’t necessarily missed. The strongest track on the disc is its opener: “Player’s Anthem.” Lundy kicks it off by laying down a fat bass line over which horns explode with pure unfettered joy. Watson swoops and soars on his sax, with brief reprieves offered by a blasting chorus of horns. While the rest of the album doesn’t quite offer the gorgeous sights and sounds of its fabulous first stop, this doesn’t mean that the rest of trip isn’t enjoyable. There’s a nice mix of lamentful ballads (“Teardrops”), melodic swingers (“Groydology”) and smoky vocal tracks (“A Long Journey,” “Blue Woman,” and “Where’d it Go”). All in all, Against All Odds offers further evidence of a remarkably renaissance of contemporary jazz music that is being faithfully recorded by smaller labels everywhere.
After being in the background for so long, Lundy shows admirably restraint as a leader. Instead of thrusting himself into limelight, he prefers to linger in the background, ably anchoring every track with his steady plucking. It’s not that Lundy refuses to take his solos. But like the very best leaders, he makes ample room for his sideman to take off and show their stuff. Against All Odds features a number of particularly inspired solos: Lundy on “Teardrops,” Shelly Carrol’s tenor on “Sweet Audrey,” Roy Hargrove on fugelhorm on “Blue Woman,” and Bobby Watson on every track. In the end, it’s Watson’s work on the alto sax that has stuck with me the longest. Alternately smooth and jagged, supple and hard-edge, mellow and blaring, Watson exhibits great range and feeling here. On the basis of what I’ve heard on this disc, I’m looking to forward to listening to Watson’s recent Quiet as it’s Kept (with Lundy on bass) and to Lundy and Watson’s work on a disc entitled Project. I encourage you to check this out.