Charles Lloyd won widespread acclaim for his recent Water is Wide,
recorded in 1999. That record set high standards for any sequel; and now Lloyd offers Hyperion With Higgins,
recorded during the same week in Los Angeles. The title of this disc pays explicit respect to the late Billy Higgins, who passed away in May. This record features the same quintet, an unusual mixture of old-timers and younger musicians. Higgins's emphatic presence is critical to the success of this record, as he blends his flawless sense of swing with textured accents, flashes, and occasional hushed commentary. (Higgins and Lloyd first got together when Lloyd was 18.)
The tunes on Hyperion tend to reflect a warm, spiritual energy, though the pulse fairly leaps out in places. Pianist Brad Mehldau serves as a sort of ground for the group, tugging at the gaps between changes in his solos but otherwise quietly going about tying up loose ends. He helps build a platform for Lloyd's dynamic saxophone work, which takes the concept of tension and release to extremes. The drama on this record is palpable. At times (eg. "Miss Jessye") Lloyd borrows heavily from the late Coltrane canon, but he's definitely got a powerfully deep voice of his own. The only crack in the foundation on this otherwise outstanding disc is some intermittently off-center playing by guitarist John Abercrombie, who appears to have a difficult time adapting his own idiosyncratic approach toward this group's sound. (Enough blues intervals, already!)
Hyperion will certainly make the honor roll for 2001, and rightly so. It's a beautifully spiritual record, led by a visionary who has cultivated and expanded his own voice for over two decadesand stitched together by a cast of extremely talented and sympathetic characters. Higgins's work here deserves special note; but then again, he always was head and shoulders above his peers. The high drama of Hyperion offers a wide range of emotional intensity. This disc is a must-listen if you liked Water is Wide. Highly recommended!
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, taragato, maracas; Billy Higgins: drums, percussion; John Abercrombie: guitar; Larry Grenadier: bass; Brad Mehldau: piano.