Portland Jazz Festival Day 3: February 18, 2007
Following a thirty-minute intermission, Charles Lloyd and his quartet took the stage with a lengthy take on the traditional "Go Down Moses," from Lift Every Voice (ECM, 2002). Of his other bandmembers, only pianist Geri Allen performed on that recording, but drummer Eric Harland has been working with Lloyd for a couple of years, and he played on last year's spiritual Sangam (ECM). Only bassist Reuben Rogers is relatively new, but alongside Harlan, the two made for a vivid rhythm section that, together with Allen, may well be the best quartet mates of Lloyd's long career.
Lloyd may be prone to rambling words, and he's been known to wax on a bit during his solos, but here he played with great focus and surprising concision. On tenor he would occasionally create flurries of notes reminiscent of John Coltrane's sheets of sound, but his delivery has always been (and remains) softer and less jagged. Lloyd focused on tenor for the majority of the performance, but he also brought out his flute for one piece and the Hungarian taragato for another.
As strong as Allen's performance with her own trio was the previous day, this group demonstrated a "take no prisoners" approach. The pianist seemed to take more risks, her unfettered solos of cascading notes and powerful chords becoming more instinctively connected with the rest of the group, especially Harland, who was like a force of nature.
Harland managed to bring together conventional swing and a taste of urban rhythms, making the entire group feel timeless yet completely contemporary. Despite a clear rhythmic focus, he was a melodically inventive soloist, with a polyrhythmic strength that had to be seen to be believed.
Rogers played with a visceral energy, his body an extension of his instrument. He was also clearly enjoying himself, grinning from ear to ear for most of the performance. His tone was equally physical, but it didn't take away from his ability to play with gentle elegance when the need arose.
Hearing the quartet play "Sweet Georgia Bright," after Allen played it with her trio the previous day, highlighted what a difference a rhythm section can make. It's not a matter of better or worse, just different. Lloyd's take on the tune was bristling with an almost unbridled energy.
When he wasn't playing, Lloyd stood towards the back of the stage, clearly captivated by the performance of his group. He may be approaching seventy, but in many ways he's playing the most vital music of his career. He may be walking a little slower, but if anything his playing has intensified relative to the more atmospheric spirituality of some of his earlier (but equally fine) ECM recordings with bassist Anders Jormin and pianist Bobo Stenson.
While there are seven more days left to the 2007 Portland Jazz Festival, this day was the end of the ECM signature. Kudos go out to Artistic Director Bill Royston, Managing Director Sarah Bailen Smith and the entire PDX Jazz crew for putting on a festival that is world-class in stature, but open and inviting in tone. This may only be PDX Jazz's fourth year, but the festival has a great future ahead of it.