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Artist Profiles

Charles Lloyd: Confluence

By Published: June 20, 2006

Zakir, Eric and I may come from different backgrounds, but it is a small planet and we are here on the homeward journey together.

Charles Lloyd"It's all part of a continuum, Charles Lloyd says about the music of his new trio with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland. "Sangam is a confluence, a meeting—it's a supercharged atmosphere when we get together. We play in the now, looking for the One. Zakir, Eric and I may come from different backgrounds, but it is a small planet and we are here on the homeward journey together.

Charles Lloyd's "journey is one of the more intriguing stories in jazz. Born in Memphis, Tenn., on March 15th, 1938, he got his first saxophone at the age of ten. "I started out on alto, he remembers, "and while Bird was my 'all in all', I also loved Johnny Hodges and Lee Konitz's sound. Lloyd studied informally with the great pianist Phineas Newborn and formally at Manansas High School (where Jimmie Lunceford had once taught). His fellow students included Booker Little (his best friend), Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern and George Coleman (then as now a strict taskmaster, who challenged his peers to develop both technical and musical virtuosity). His first professional gigs were with bluesmen Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf.

Even as a teenager Lloyd's musical tastes were diverse. In addition to his love of jazz and blues he developed a strong interest in classical music. "I had been drawn to the sheer transcendence of J.S. Bach and the late string quartets of Beethoven, he recalls, "and Bartók, with the way he tapped into his native folk melodies. His interest in the latter led to his matriculation at USC, where he studied composition. "When I was in college in Los Angeles, there was a rich cauldron of music makers all around me—as there had been in Memphis, he continues. "There was Gerald Wilson's big band, which we all played in. At various times, in the reeds were Harold Land, Walter Benton, Clifford Jordan, Eric Dolphy, Ornette and myself. Some of the other musicians were Don Cherry, Lester Robinson, Garnett Brown, Horace Tapscott, Frank Butler, Elmo Hope ... I jammed at night with Master [Billy] Higgins, Scotty LaFaro, Bobby Hutcherson, Cherry and many others.

When Dolphy left Chico Hamilton's band in 1960 to join Charles Mingus, Lloyd succeeded his altoist friend in the innovative drummer's group. After a year of playing alto (and flute) in the Hamilton quintet that featured Nate Gershman on cello, Lloyd switched to tenor and took over as music director.

Under his direction the course of the band, which now included Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, noticeably changed, as evidenced on the album Drumfusion, a date comprised entirely of Lloyd compositions. He says, "At the time, I was listening to recordings of Bismallah Khan and got to hear Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. When I discovered this music and heard how they could bend the notes—it was so soulful and took me back to my childhood and the blues in Byhalia, Mississippi—I introduced Gabor to Indian music; he had already heard the music of the Roma people in his native Hungary and he began to bend his notes, even more, in that Eastern direction. The startling effect can be heard on Hamilton's classic Impulse album, Man from Two Worlds, which features an early recording of Lloyd's "Forest Flower .

Soon afterwards, Lloyd joined Cannonball Adderley's Sextet, replacing Yusef Lateef, who ironically would similarly move on to a pioneering role in the as yet unnamed world music movement. While still touring and/or recording with Cannon and Chico, Lloyd made his first albums as a leader, Discovery and Of Course, Of Course, for Columbia. The latter, newly reissued by Mosaic, is a groundbreaking quartet date with Szabo and the Miles Davis rhythm team of Ron Carter and Tony Williams, but it was Lloyd's next foursome, featuring the virtually unknown rhythm section of Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette that would soon make history.

In 1966, touring after their first studio recording, Dream Weaver, which featured an intellectual looking Lloyd with a full Afro, wearing a three piece pinstriped suit on the cover, the quartet performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The group's set, including an extended version of Lloyd's "Forest Flower , was issued with the previously recorded tune as the title track.

Charles Lloyd The album Forest Flower became the first jazz record to sell a million copies, earning the group tours of Europe and Russia and appearances in America in rock venues like the Fillmore West, where they shared bills with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. With Ron McClure replacing McBee, the group recorded a series of live albums—Love In, Journey Within, In The Soviet Union and Soundtrack—that reflected Lloyd's early worldview of jazz.

Lloyd remembers, "When I moved to NY in the early '60s the musical horizons kept expanding. I discovered the Ali brothers, Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khan. I lived in the village and I listened to their tapes every morning. Some things in your life are focal—that tape was one of them. The Ali brothers were a big influence on me during the period with Keith and Jack when we recorded Journey Within. Just as influential, according to Lloyd, was the music of John Coltrane: "When I first heard Coltrane he was with Miles and played in starts and stops—I heard him coming out of Dexter and Bird. This was in the mid '50s when I was in LA and he was clearly looking for something.

The next time I heard him, he had made a breakthrough and he was opening up a new path for those of us who followed... Many writers make the comparison between us, I don't think I come close to his sound—what I think they do hear is that spiritual connection. We both are trying to find something deeper and our music is an expression of that search and journey.

Lloyd's journey would take a sharp detour due to what he describes as "life in the fast lane. "I blew a fuse, he says. "I wanted to change the world with music and I realized I had failed at that... Despite my life in the fast lane and detours in the '60s, my pursuit of the spiritual and teachings from the East also deepened. I was reading Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Tagore, the Sufi poets Hafez and Rumi, the Upanishads, the Vedas and the teachings of the Buddha, Milareppa and Vivekanada. I also had the songs and teachings of my great grandmother, Sally Sunflower Whitecloud, who was Chickasaw and Choctaw. I always felt that America was a religious country, but not necessarily a spiritual one. Lloyd retreated to Big Sur to pursue an inner journey.

The '70s found Lloyd experimenting with popular music, both as a leader and with groups like the Beach Boys, Canned Heat and the Doors (a date with the Byrds' Roger McGuinn even paired him with Bob Dylan's harmonica on one song). His own albums moved from pop-rock (Moon Man and Warm Waters) to Indian influenced fusion (Geeta and Morning Sunrise) to new age (Koto and Big Sur Tapestry).

Finally, in 1981 an 18-year-old Michel Petrucciani sought out the legendary saxophonist and coaxed him into returning to the jazz scene. Lloyd made several tours and recordings with the young pianist, culminating in a recorded appearance at the legendary 1985 One Night With Blue Note concert that reunited him with his original quartet members Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette. Then a life threatening medical condition forced him in into yet another hiatus.

Lloyd reemerged in 1990 with renewed fervor and began a prolific relationship with ECM records that remains fruitful to this day. In 1993, he recorded one album, Acoustic Masters, for his old label Atlantic, with Cedar Walton, Buster Williams and most importantly, Billy Higgins. Lloyd rekindled the deep friendship with the drummer that went back to his LA college days and in 1997 they began touring and recording together regularly. In January 2001 Lloyd invited an ailing Higgins to come to his home in Big Sur and the two spent several days improvising music together on a vast array of instruments. The result, Which Way Is East, is a unique, deeply spiritual recording that had Lloyd returning to earlier inner sources of inspiration. Higgins passed away not long afterwards.

Charles Lloyd"When Billy left in 2001 he said to me that we would always be together, Lloyd reminisces, "and now I know what he meant because after he left he introduced me from the other side to Zakir and then he sent Eric Harland to me [Lloyd met the Texas drummer at the Blue Note in New York, where they were playing separately the first night the club opened following the tragedy of 9/11]...so this is a very interesting formation of souls who have a confluence of meeting in a place where there is no space or time.

The three musicians came together as trio for the first time at a May 2004 concert billed as "Homage To Billy Higgins . Sangam (ECM), the recorded document, is an auspicious debut of what is now a working band, exploring directions in music Lloyd first began mining nearly a half a century ago.

Asked if he hopes to convey any extra-musical message through the music of Sangam, Lloyd replies, "Let Truth and Love be your guide. The message is in the music, which has always been healing medicine for me. The music dances on many shores, but I still have mud on my shoes and even in this configuration with Zakir and Eric, I hear the blues. And when I get up in there, I am found. Music can speak to direct states that can't be articulated in words, it goes deeper and more directly to the small space within the heart which is vaster than vast universes.


Selected Discography

Charles Lloyd, Sangam (ECM, 2006)
Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins, Which Way is East (ECM, 2004)

Charles Lloyd, Canto (ECM, 1997)
Charles Lloyd, The Call (ECM, 1993)
Charles Lloyd, Fish Out of Water (ECM, 1990)
Charles Lloyd, Montreux '82 (Elektra, 1982)

Charles Lloyd, Forest Flower/Soundtrack (Atlantic-Rhino, 1966/68)

Charles Lloyd, Of Course, Of Course (Columbia-Mosaic, 1965)

Chico Hamilton, Man From Two Worlds (Impulse!, 1962-63)

Photo Credits:
Top Photo: Andrea Colombara
Center Photo: Michael Kurgansky
Bottom Photo: Ziga Koritnik
Cover Photo: Ben Johnson



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