The Jazz.com Blog
March 15, 2008 · 0 comments
Saxophonist Charles Lloyd releases a new CD this month on ECM in conjunction with his 70th birthday, which he celebrated over the weekend. Jazz.com invited Matt Leskovic, who recently gave a talk on Lloyd's music at the Rutgers Jazz Research Roundtable, to commemorate the occasion. Matt shares his thoughts below, and also contributes a review of a stellar track, "Prometheus," from the new CD, which is entitled Rabo de Nube. T.G.
Charles Lloyd has been called many things—mystical, mesmerizing, a shaman, and even a “tremendous dispenser of ecstasies.” Anyone who has seen him in concert knows that these lofty praises are not at all unjustified.
I first saw Lloyd perform in Cleveland at the Tri-C jazz festival during the summer of 2005. As a friend and I drove three hours to see him, my heart beat quickly with anticipation, my leg bounced uncontrollably, and my mind wandered to a place that seemed familiar yet somewhere I had never been—only transported to through his records and an active imagination.
As soon as he walked on stage—his tall, lanky figure slowly emerging from the wings—he bowed humbly and opened his arms to the crowd, inviting us as we invited him with our applause. Lloyd, slightly hunched, played with the same amount of vigor and passion as he did forty years ago. His legs kicked, his body swayed and twisted, and his saxophone reached for the sky while spewing forth endless lines of lyrical transcendence. After every solo, having bared so much of his soul to the gracious audience (and to his own personal Creator), he would settle into his chair in the nook of the piano, shut his eyes, and let his band develop his story to even greater heights.
As the music swelled and soared, the audience was encompassed by something deeper than pure sound. It was emotionally cathartic, breathing an energy that I had never felt before, and trying to put it in words would only belittle its power and intensity. The room reverberated with Lloyd’s “love vibrations”—the same vibrations he laid out for the counterculture in the late 1960s. Almost fifty years into his legendary career, Lloyd’s journey remains saturated with the tenderness he sought as a young boy growing in segregated Memphis, Tennessee, and his goal is still to infuse the world with a love and warmth that the we all too often ignore, neglect, or simply forget.
It was mesmerizing, it was mystical, and the audience was held spellbound. That performance inspired one of the most exciting post-concert car ride conversations I’ve ever experienced—we talked music, philosophy, physics, literature, the politics of love, war, and peace, childhood and cartoons and just about everything else under the sky. But unlike the waning moon that night, the inspiration has yet to fade and still illuminates me to this day.
It was these same qualities that drew the counterculture to Lloyd’s late 1960s quartet, which featured a young Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette and played psychedelic venues like the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. Lloyd was backed by swirling light shows and shared stages with the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, and his new audience—uninitiated to avant-garde jazz—related to his message as they did to their more familiar psych-rock icons. His music celebrated diversity, incorporating his blues roots (Lloyd gigged with Howlin’ Wolf, B. B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland and others while still a teenager in Memphis), alongside a Coltrane/Coleman avant-gardism and Eastern-tinged modality, all graced with an accessible warmth and presented with a pop-sensibility. His music was uncompromising—he wasn’t patronizing or tricking this audience into thinking his group was something that it was not. The hippies were attracted to his music because it was truthful and passionate, spoken boldly and meaningfully and not confined by norms they so desperately sought to shed.
As he turned seventy years young this weekend, Charles Lloyd celebrated his birthday with the release of a new album for ECM, Rabo de Nube. The album—sincere, moving, and stimulating—is colored by the rainbows of the late 1960s, touched by the time-tested hand of the blues, and sprinkled by an exotic pinch of the Far East. Rabo de Nube continues many long-established traditions in Lloyd’s career and catalog. After releasing seven live records in the 1960s with his classic group, this is only the fourth he has released since, making it much anticipated and appreciated. Recorded in Switzerland in 2007, the new album brings Lloyd back to Europe, where in June 1966 he established himself as arguably the brightest star on the jazz horizon with a breakthrough performance at the Antibes Jazz Festival.
Lloyd’s music has always attracted sidemen of huge stature and has fostered groups that operate on an extrasensory level. Crowned with the title as musical director of drummer Chico Hamilton’s group in late 1961, Lloyd disbanded the leader’s outdated chamber unit and brought in, among others, guitarist Gabor Szabo to traverse a more progressive jazz landscape. Lloyd considered Szabo to be his ultimate frontline partner and the two developed an empathy in their collective improvisations that will forever be hard to match.
And then came Jarrett and DeJohnette. Is there anything left to be said about their on-stage telepathy? I think not.
Rabo de Nube is no different. Eric Harland, one of the most communicative and gifted drummers the jazz world has seen in a long time, is back again in the chair he has held for the past four years. Bassist Reuben Rogers shows his diversity as well, swinging hard and improvising adventurously both with and without bow. Pianist Jason Moran, having recently replaced Geri Allen, is the newest member of the group yet fits in impeccably. He thrives in the quartet and the quartet with him.
Lloyd’s new group is the latest extension and development of the leader’s concept that he first solidified with Chico back in 1962. As his career nears its sixth decade, Lloyd proves to be a musician of unending drive and enthusiasm who seemingly never tires or reaches contentment. His playing on both saxophone and flute are cleaner, more elegant and filled with more surprises than ever before. Listeners’ ears, minds and hearts continue to be graced by Lloyd’s music and its plentiful fill of wonder, joy, ecstasy, and tenderness. Happy birthday, Master Lloyd. Here’s to another seventy years!
This blog entry posted by Matt Leskovic