CHARLES LLOYD ATHENS CONCERT / Charles Lloyd and Friends Mixtape
Source: Breath of Life - (BoL Mixtape October 24, 2011)
Charles Lloyd was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 15, 1938. At seventy-three he is one of the eminence grise of the jazz saxophone. He is far, far more than merely an elder statesman deserving of respect for the totality of his musical contributions over the years; the music Lloyd is making today, right now, projects an unparalleled spiritual depth. People often talk in the abstract about the emotional power of the music, in this Athens concert Lloyd illustrates and embodies that truism. From the opening number you recognize that this is spiritual service and not just a performance.
Charles Lloyd has long been known for his investigations of alternative modes of spiritual concentration, specifically transcendental meditation, but he achieves nirvana with this concert that features Greek vocalist Maria Farantouri and guest musicans Socratis Sinopoulos on lyra (a traditional string instrument that sounds like a violin) and Takis Farazis on piano/arranger, in addition to Lloyd’s regular bandmates Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on acoustic bass, and Eric Harland on drums. This is sacred music celebrating life itself, celebrating the strength and courage required to survive and overcome whatever would attempt to exploit and/or deaden life.
We often acknowledge western culture as Greco-Roman-based and make all kinds of philosophical and mythic connections between Greek antiquity and contemporary American existence. Throw the pseudo-philosophical simplicities out the window. This is music that is based in the struggles of two different cultures to overcome oppression.
Jazz was founded in the quest for freedom. And the Greek music chosen for this concert, even when based on centuries old folk music, is ultimately a reflection of contemporary Greek struggles against tyranny and economic exploitation. Built into both the Greek and the African American cultures are the use of lamentations as an expression of resistance, and a belief in the power of music to enable survival of otherwise unbearable hardships.
Moreover, not only is Maria Farantouri celebrated as a curator of Greek song who went into exile during the period of the Greek military takeover, she also returned to her homeland after the political departure of the military and in 1989 was elected to the Greek Parliament as Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) MP. The sociological and political concordances between these two seemingly separate cultures are real and deep.
You hear a mutual emphasis on freedom and beauty throughout this interlocking suite of songs that are deeply felt by Greek audiences and simultaneously sound very familiar to jazz audiences (even though in truth most of us are hearing this music for the first time and don’t have a clue to the literal meaning of the lyrics). The beauty of the Athens Concert is that the cultural constraints and our own limitations melt away as we grasp the illumination at the core of the music: real life is about celebrating existence and sharing love.
Even though only four of the eighteen selections were written by Charles Lloyd, the whole of this concert sounds just like jazz. Some of the music has its origins in the third century, but all of the music sounds absolutely contemporary.
The stunning success of the Athens Concert project would not be possible were it not for Lloyd’s band who do far more than merely offer sympathetic accompaniment. They play with a primal force that keeps the music flowing; even the slowest tempos have a spiritual sweep that is uplifting. Pianist Jason Moran in particular frequently bobs to the surface with small, jewel-like solos that are breathtaking in their lyrical beauty.
Maria Farantouri deserves continuous praise for how she blends her sound into the overall sound of the ensemble. She actually is a second lead instrument in how she phrases and in the rises and swells of her breathing as she sings. Her sound is similar to Mahalia Jackson, profoundly moving without resort to histrionics or technical acrobatics.
The bulk of the concert consists of a three part series of Greek songs that segue one into the next without break. The Mixtape includes the Lloyd composition “Prayer” and the entire Part II and Part III of the “Greek Suite.” I think once you hear this much, you will want to acquire the whole concert.
This double CD album is a marvelous achievement. This collaboration is absolutely sublime. That the concept was initiated and realized by a septuagenarian should offer all of us hope that we can always birth beauty through creative cultural expression.
Long past retirement age, Charles Lloyd continues to create sonic vibrations that set the pace and establish serious standards for the beautiful music we know as jazz.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Charles Lloyd Athens Concert Mixtape Playlist
02 “Greek Suite, Part II: Vlefaro Mou”
03 “Greek Suite, Part II: Margaritarenia”
04 “Greek Suite, Part II: Thalassaki Mou”
05 “Greek Suite, Part III: Epirotiko Meroloi”
06 “Greek Suite, Part III: Kaegomae kae Sigoliono”
07 “Greek Suite, Part III: Mori kontoula lemonia”
08 “Greek Suite, Part III: Alismono kae haeromae”
09 “Greek Suite, Part III: Tou hel’ to kastron”
10 “Greek Suite, Part III: Yanni Mou”
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