This past Saturday I finally got to see Charles Lloyd (with his New Quartet) live at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater. These last five years or so I’ve become quite taken with Lloyd, and he’s perhaps my favorite living jazz saxophonist after Dave Liebman. (At least according to my wallet and library.) I blindly purchased 2001’s Hyperion with Higgins on a whim a few years ago, having been convinced by both the personnel (Charles Lloyd, John Abercrombie, Larry Grenadier, Billy Higgins, Brad Mehldau) and the record label (ECM, his nearly exclusive label since coming out of semi-retirement/reclusivity in the 80s) that it’d be worthwhile. In fact, for many reasons I’ll not list here, I consider that purchase/album to be the watershed moment for my love of ECM, when I went from thinking That’s a great label to That is THE label.
While I’ve since gone far down the rabbit hole that is Lloyd’s output, Hyperion remains one of my most-listened to jazz albums. But most of his other albums are in the running for a close second, and that’s because Charles is 1) always engaging and 2) surrounds himself with great players. Perhaps the single most appealing aspect of his playing, to me, is its gravitas. There’s no frivolity is Lloyd’s music, and even the more light-hearted moments have weight. That’s where I hear the influence of Trane most in his music, although the harmonic vocabulary is evident, its the ethos more than anything that grabs my attention. And even with the most chromatic of runs that may include multiphonics or other extended techniques, Lloyd’s unparalleled melodic and rhythmic phrasing make his playing appear deceptively simple or “in,” especially in the last couple decades. It’s more about subtle nuance than aggressive showboating or gymnastics with Lloyd.
At 74 he’s a solid as ever, and rhythm section of his New Quartet – solidified in ’07: Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland – provides a nice youthful balance to his more meditative approach. Without writing a full-blown concert review here, suffice it to say that Saturday night’s show scratched me right where I itched. The highlight for me was their powerful rendition of “Go Down Moses.” Stopping only to introduce the band twice, Lloyd & Co. captivated the auditorium for 100+ minutes.
I’ve assembled a variety of videos to serve as a primer for those unfamiliar with him. And if you’re already a fan, you should really dig these if you haven’t yet seem them. FYI – they’re in reverse-chronological order:
This features the New Quartet (and they performed this on Saturday, if you happened to be in attendance)
“You Are So Beautiful”
Geri Allen – Piano; Billy Hart – Drums; Robert Hurst – Bass
(Yes, that “You Are So Beautiful,” although Lloyd’s interpretation practically transcends any other associations or notions you may have previously held about it.)
His famous quartet from the late 1960s – talk about being able to spot talent!
Keith Jarrett – Piano, Jack DeJohnette – Drums; Cecil McBee – Bass
Keith’s pianistic outburst at 3:15 gets me every time…