Catalina’s justified their need for a bigger room with the appearance of Charles Lloyd who filled the new Sunset Strip location. Lloyd brought his Friday night feel-good festival to town featuring his working quartet including Geri Allen on piano, Robert Hurst on bass, and hardworking Eric Harland on drums. Lloyd understands the wisdom of keeping a band together, and these longtime associates played with empathy and delight. After a rousing first set that had Lloyd adding enthusiastic percussion, the quartet dug in for the swing shift.
Much of the group’s repertoire and playing suggested shimmering, sparkling, flowing water. While Lloyd and company roar and rock with the best of them, his signature subtlety and class dominated. Starting as an amphorous whisper, “the Secret Life of the Forbidden City” found Lloyd playing sweeping romantic tenor lines with hints of Coltrane. Allen provided broad support while Harland fluffed the cymbals with mallets. With no obvious cue, the musicians shifted gears and gelled into a hard swing that had Lloyd pumping his sax over a roller coaster. Harland and Hurst churned like an industrial thresher. While Lloyd sat eyes closed weaving on a stool, Allen took the wheel for a rolling ride with Harland playing the pistons. Lloyd returned to the theme, then everyone played variations creating a dynamic group improvisation.
Still on tenor, Lloyd eased Ellington’s “Come Sunday” through an elegant reading. With Harland spinning gossamer webs with the brushes, Lloyd masterfully explored the ballad with a busy course, slipping like a silverfish between the pages of a book. Allen continued Lloyd’s pace, slowing by degrees until she shaped silence into her solo before cajoling cascades from her keyboard, signaling Lloyd’s return.
Picking up the alto flute, Lloyd worked “Blues for Langston,” a playful soul blues theme that seemed merely jaunty before Harland’s active beat-tweaking turned it tight. He dropped into a more conventional swing as Lloyd took an extended run through the rich alto. Allen played small sparse statements over the solid rhythm section, building to offtime variations shot off Harland. Eric simplified for Hurst’s intimidating bass solo complete with Monk quotes. His enviable dexterity and melodic grace gave way to an all out assault by Harland, who rediscovered the fluid funky beat then again teased Lloyd’s theme with offtime support.
Back on tenor, Lloyd improvised a beautiful duet with Allen, which included call and response, as well as intuitive journeying. The rhythm section picked up for a quirky line that broke loose into a high powered tenor solo with Hurst and Harland hurtling to keep up. For her turn, Allen painted all over the exploding Harland and Hurst, again sparring with the former. Hurst unleashed hard plucked velocity and Harland flashed Herculean hurricane drumming.
After that storm, the band left the stage and Lloyd returned for an exotic and introspective solo on the Transylvanian taragato. Lloyd bathed the crowd in its warm woody sound, playing an extended improvisation communicating his apparently easy access to the sacred. The band reassembled for a gentle ballad blessing that had Lloyd back on tenor. He turned it into a torch song with surprising gruffness of tone that resulted in deep heart massage.
Finished for the night and lights up, Lloyd roamed the appreciative crowd, signing autographs and greeting all well-wishers like old friends.