Charles Lloyd: Sangam & Of Course, Of Course
Charles Lloyd may, in many ways, be the ideal ECM artist of the new century. Certainly since returning to the label in the late '80s, his recordings, all with wonderfully diverse, yet all uniformly spiritual ensembles, have set a new standard for music that is simultaneously introspective and energetic. This might sound like a contradiction but that has been the hallmark of Lloyd's career, particularly during his formative years as a leader in the '60s when he presented challenging jazz music to listeners at pop and rock concerts. You take Lloyd on his terms.
His latest project (a strange way to look at it since it has been in existence since 2004) may be his most stirring since that flower power-era quartet. Sangam, both the album title and the band name, is ostensibly Lloyd's project yet there are few more fully cooperative groups than this trio. In addition to Lloyd's panoply of wind and reed instruments (tenor and soprano sax, tarogato, alto and bass flute), he also plays piano and percussion. Once-in-a-lifetime musician Zakir Hussain appears on tablas, percussion and voice while Eric Harland, who if he is not receiving the same accolades now as Brian Blade did with Wayne Shorter a few years back certainly should, plays a mean trap kit as well as piano. This kind of instrumentation might imply a certain sound - heavily percussive and Eastern - which often is the case given Lloyd's own musical aesthetic. But Lloyd also is a deep jazz musician, Hussain is absolutely no stranger to that kind of music and Harland is the most impressive young jazz drummer playing today. Combine these three players and Sangam becomes world music without the headtrip, jazz without the constraints, spiritual music for everyone.
The one drawback to the album is that it is a document of the group's first performance. In the intervening two years, at performances worldwide, the group's interplay has developed so that Sangam the album actually comes across as pedestrian at times. The group played at Zankel Hall last month as part of the JVC Jazz Festival and there the difference between the 2006 group and this document is striking. Whereas the album is nine tunes, none over 13 minutes, now the group can extend pieces for over half an hour while each player's role, particularly that of Harland has become that much more dynamic.
Listeners who pick up the reissue of the much earlier Of Course, Of Course might be excused for not believing it is the same musician. Of course, few artists have played since the '60s and are still making creative inroads. Even in 1964 and 1965, some of the seeds of Sangam had already been planted, particularly Lloyd's incomparable melodicism and a still unique approach to the flute. Despite the presence of Ron Carter and Tony Williams (on loan from Miles), this album is not as compelling as next year's Dream Weaver, any of the quartet sides with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, or indeed Sangam. But even 40 years ago, he is still the iconoclast and wondrous conceptualist for whom the audience at Zankel Hall was clamoring.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Dancing on One Foot; Tales of Rumi; Sangam; Nataraj; Gumanl Tender Warriorsl Hymne to the Mother; Lady in the Harbor; Little Peace.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor and alto sax, flute and alto flute, tarogato, piano; Zakir Hussain: tabla; Eric Harland: drums, piano.
Of Course, Of Course
Tracks: Of Course, Of Course; The Song My Lady Sings; The Best Thing for You; The Things We Did Last Summer; Apex; One for Joan; Goin' to Memphis; Voice in the Night; Third Floor Richard; East of the Sun (And West of the Moon) [*]; Island Blues [*]; Sun Dance [*]. [*] bonus tracks .
Personnel: Ron Carter: bass; Pete La Roca: drums; Charles Lloyd: tenor sax, flute; Robbie Robertson: guitar; Albert Stinson: bass; Gabor Szabo: guitar; Tony Williams: drums.