CHARLES LLOYD / “Charles Lloyd Inner Visions”
A man was lost. Everywhere he went, no matter whom he met, he remained lost. He grew tired of not finding his way but everyone he asked where was the way would tell him something different. One said, it is far away, over the mountains, across the seas. Another said, no way exists, we are all lost. A third, smiled and said I am searching too, do you want to come with me. And so on. The search was frustrating.
Finally, he asked a child where was the way? The child asked where do you want to go? The man said to a better place, a place where there is no hunger, no war, no greed; everybody shares and lives together in peace and harmony. The child replied that sounds like heaven but I don’t want to go there. The man was stunned. And why not, he asked the child. Because you have to die to get there and I’ve just started to live.
In the sixties Charles Lloyd had attained the popularity of a rock musician and he walked away from it. He invested his earnings in California real estate and for close to fifteen years he did not return to performing except for occasional performances/recordings with (are you ready for this?) The Beach Boys.
In 1981, by chance, Lloyd’s path crossed with pianist Michel Petrucciani, who was born with a defect that turned him into a dwarf-like small person with twisted bones. Michel’s dedication to music inspired Lloyd to return to the bandstand but after a few years Lloyd again retreated into retirement.
An almost fatal experience encouraged Lloyd to take up music for the third time. By 1989, Lloyd was touring and recording with ECM Records. His tenure with ECM would turn out to be extremely productive in both quantity and quality. During the last two decades Charles Lloyd has worked with a small coterie of musicians.
Lloyd has constantly searched to develop an ensemble that could work as a unit to produce creative music. At various times he has settled on a group only to move on after a year or two. Unlike many players, who go through a number of stylistic changes, Lloyd’s approach to his horn has remained relatively the same as when he started in tone and technique. In terms of his composing, his interest in spiritual strivings has come more to the forefront, but even so his choice of repertoire remains similar to his early years. The emphasis is on his own compositions abetted by selections from Ellington, Monk, a few standards and a pop tune or two.
What is most characteristic of Lloyd's music is freedom of expression: the experimentation, the exploration, and constant improvisation guided by the genuine feelings and thoughts of the musicians. Moreover, no matter how “out” Charles Lloyd goes, there is always a sense of lyricism at the center of his sound. He is always singing, and his song is uplifting. Audiences often speak of feeling rejuvenated or blissed-out after his concerts. This euphoria is not just a happy byproduct, Charles Lloyd fully intends to inspire greater awareness of the interconnectedness of all life forms.
Charles Lloyd places no restrictions on himself or the musicians with whom he chooses to perform. Although this is very serious music, there is great joy that comes from creating at high levels of consciousness.
Around 2002 Lloyd even put together a trio made up of Lloyd on reeds plus two percussionists: tabla master Zair Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. They were known as the Sangam Trio. This was certainly Lloyd’s most adventurous formation. The majority of the music was open improvisation with only fragments or quick sketches of themes to serve as structural signpost.
Back in February 2008 BoL featured “Forest Flower,” Charles Lloyd most popular composition. (Go here to read what we wrote.) This week we are featuring the music of Charles Lloyd the seer/seeker, the man goes inward on the regular striving to make a better person of himself. This music is both a challenge to grasp with the mind as well as easy to understand with the heart.
In one sense this is a retrospective: I open with music dating back to 1969 (featuring the Jarrett, McClure, DeJohnette quartet) and finish up with a track from Lloyd’s new album, Mirror. Except for “Mirror,” all the tracks are live recordings including a rare track from a four-CD set that contains three tracks by a reunion of Lloyd’s mid-sixties band with Cecil McBee on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Michel Petrucciani replacing Keith Jarrett on piano.
What is significant is not just the tracks themselves but the fortuitous reality that over half of the selections are not available commercially. On this Mixtape you get to hear the different ensembles in performance. The music has a urgency, a yearning, an intensity that many of the studio recordings lack. The studio albums have their own strengths, their own beauty but an attentive audience adds energy to the music, an energy that no amount of studio perfection can duplicate.
While most of Lloyd’s peers are treading water and reprising previous achievements, Charles Lloyd keeps reaching. His recordings are often more radical than the recordings of most saxophonists half Lloyd’s age.
Rogers, Lloyd, Moran and Harland
I have been impressed by all of Lloyd’s bands but the current assembly (Lloyd dubs them “the new quartet”) of Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums, and McArthur genius awardee Jason Moran on piano is Lloyd’s strongest band. I do not mean that the previous units are inferior ensembles but the new quartet is in a category onto itself, both the solos and the interplay in this unit are extraordinary.
This aggregation has both the spiritual sensitivity and the raw, roaring power necessary to cover the wide palette that Lloyd’s music employs. The Mixtape concludes with four selections from the new quartet. The first of the four is “Mirror,” the title selection from Lloyd’s new September 2010 release. The album is stunning and has garnered copious kudos from critics and fans. The last three selections are from a bootleg of a concert featuring the new quartet. Indeed, some of the selections are also on Mirror but the difference is the live tracks are simply that: alive, more lively, gushing with life.
While I enjoy Mirror, I find myself listening to this live tape over and over. Indeed, this bootleg even surpasses the excellent Rabo de Nube, a 2008 live recording featuring the new quartet.
Charles Lloyd came to the planet on March 15, 1938 in Memphis, Tennessee. None of his current band members was even born when Lloyd made recording history with the 1967 album, Forest Flower, the first modern jazz album to sell a million. Despite being in his seventies, Charles Lloyd is creating some of the most challenging and simultaneously the most fulfilling jazz on the scene today.
Lloyd makes vigorous, vital music that dances and probes, cries and rejoices, constructs coherence from the coincidences and chaos of life in this dangerous millennium. There was a time when jazz was the most daring music on the planet. Charles Lloyd proves that sometimes it still is.
You don’t have to die to go to heaven; just close your eyes and listen, Lloyd’s music will take you there.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Charles Lloyd Inner Visions Mixtape Playlist
Forest Flower: Live in Monterey + Soundtrack
02 “Forest Flower '69”
03 “Come Sunday”
04 “Sweet Georgia Bright”
One Night With Blue Note Preserved – Vol. 4
05 “Lady Day”
Live Karlsruhe, Germany 1994
06 “Fish Out of Water”
Live at JazzBaltica 2000
08 “God Give Me Strength”
Rabo De Nube
09 “Rabo De Nube”
10 “Dancing on One Foot”
11 “Little Peace”
Live at Tollhaus, Karlsruhe, Germany
12 “Hurley Gurley”
Live in Vienna
16 “Hymn to the Mother”
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