Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review of the new Charles Lloyd CD “Mirror”

Charles Lloyd "Mirror"
ECM B0014665-02

From the time saxophonist Charles Lloyd started playing in Chico Hamilton’s cutting edge group in the early sixties, it was obvious the tenor saxophonist had a style that fused post bop jazz with elements of free jazz and a whole lot of soul. His group was one of the first jazz groups to play the Fillmore in San Francisco during the late sixties, demonstrating his crossover appeal to rock weaned audiences.

Forest Flower & Soundtrack 
His “live” album “Forest Flower”, recorded at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, with Keith Jarrett, Jack De Johnette and Cecil Mc Bee is a classic and achieved moderate commercial success.

Now at age 72 Mr. Lloyd is joined by another group of young, talented and fiercely aggressive musicians and the results are exemplary. From the first fluttering notes of Mr. Lloyd’s saxophone on the opening number “I Fall in Love Too Easily” he is brilliantly accompanied by the warm, probing tone of bassist Reuben Rodgers and the contrastingly hammered sounds of Jason Moran on piano.

On “Go Down Moses” drummer Eric Harland’s syncopated rhythmic beat with Mr. Rodger’s bowed bass provide Mr. Lloyd the appropriate background for his subdued but resolute saxophone exploration. The trio has admirable empathetic interplay, with Mr. Rodgers showing some fine soloing on the double bass, as Mr. Harland provides fluid fills and rolls, with Mr. Moran deftly comping.

The self-penned “Desolation Sound” is my favorite cut on the album. Beautifully played with a confident, relaxed tone that is deeply expressive, it has a certain signature plasticity to it that is all Charles Lloyd.  Mr. Moran demonstrates his own idea of lyricism on this song, as he plays a section of cascading notes that is perfectly complimentary to the mood set by Mr. Lloyd’s saxophone.

The traditional “La Llorona” has a sleepy, cantina-like sound that recalls spaghetti westerns, senoritas and cheap tequila. Mr. Moran adapts to the sombrero style admirably while retaining his own unique approach.

Having worked and toured with the Beach Boys in the seventies, it is not surprising to find Mr. Lloyd choosing  a Brian Wilson song to record from this composers many under appreciated works. On Wilson’s “Caroline, No” Mr. Lloyd fluidity is on display as he probes the nuances of the song’s tenderness. Mr. Rodgers bass lines are particularly buoyant as he effectively lifts the feel of the song.

Mr. Lloyd chooses to play two compositions by Thelonious Monk. The first “Monk’s Mood”,  he plays with a deliberate delicacy that is simple and unadorned. It is Mr. Moran’s solo that is appropriately “Monkish” cleverly taking unexpected turns.

The second Monk tune, the beautiful “Ruby, My Dear”, I find  a little disappointing.. Respectfully, I think Mr. Lloyd’s fluttering embellishments detract from the beauty this song inherently possesses. Mr. Moran surprisingly resurrects the song’s poignancy with his own unique take around the melody. Mr. Harland and Mr. Rodgers once again show sheer deftness in their subtle pacing behind the soloists.

Sandwiched between the two Monk tunes, is the Charles Lloyd composition and the title song on the album “Mirror”. The lightly swinging feel of this song is played perfectly by this silky smooth rhythm section. Mr. Lloyd is at his most feathery here, playing with a loose, limber feel to his horn that suggests years of familiarity and a resolute direction.

Starting with a soulful bass line by Mr. Rodgers and piano accompaniment by Mr. Moran the traditional “The Water is Wide” has a down home feel that is fun and infectious. Here Mr. Lloyd’s fluttering saxophone is a nice compliment to the steady Rodgers bass line. Mr. Moran, for the most part, keeps his soulful side at bay with his angular approach to the keyboards, but here he manages to appropriately air  it out a bit. Rodgers has the most fun on this one with his playful pizzicato.

The album contains three more songs the gospel hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is the least satisfying cut  on the album.  
“Being and Becoming”,is  a free flowing, semi-formless composition that has Moran, Harland and Rodgers laying the groundwork for Mr. Lloyd to searchingly explore ideas on his horn.

The last song is a Bhagavida Gita inspired, spoken word Lloyd composition “Tagi” where he softly speaks in a meditative chant-like mantra on top of the arco bass of Rodgers, the delicate piano musings of Mr. Moran and the “Om-like” baritone chants of Mr. Harland. This is a deeply meditative piece comparable to Jack DeJohnette's " Music in the Key of Om" and perfect for all those who practice yoga.

At seventy-two Mr. Lloyd demonstrates his ability to bring together talented young musicians and inspire them to create some challenging and enjoyable music.

Recorded December 9 & 10, 2009 at Santa Barbara Sound Design, California

Musicians: Charles Lloyd, (tenor and alto saxophones); Jason Moran (piano); Reuben Rodgers (double bass); Eric Harland (drums & voice).

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