Charles Lloyd Quartet: Mirror (2010)
Sometimes the trust in knowing can yield more than the excitement of uncharted territory. Charles Lloyd ratchets down the energy from Rabo De Nube (ECM, 2008), one of the most exciting, free-wheeling albums and new groups of the saxophonist's half century career. Relying on the quartet's increasingly profound chemistryand mostly recycled material rather than Rabo's largely new set of originalsLloyd continues his upward trajectory; his intrinsically spiritual nature a moving force behind an album somewhat reminiscent of The Water is Wide (ECM, 2000). The Water is Wide's multigenerational quintet of established greats and stars-in-the-making, however, culled low-keyed material from a longer recording session that also yielded the energetic follow-up, Hyperion with Higgins (ECM, 2001). Instead, Mirror teams Lloyd with three active, thirty-something musicians on the vanguard of 21st Century American jazz.
Garnering plenty of attention for his own records, Jason Moran has proven an even more astute sideman, in particular for his recent work with Lloyd and ECM label-mate Paul Motian, whose Lost in a Dream (2010), shed new light on the pianist's mélange of Thelonious Monk-ian angularity, free-wheeling improvisational extremes, and lyrical impressionism. He brings the same sensibility to Mirror, but its general emphasis on ballads, and ambling swing creates a different set of extemporaneous demands, though he does fly into more outré space on a far more powerful and open-ended version of the traditional "Lift Every Voice and Sing" than on Lift Every Voice (ECM, 2002), and "Being and Becoming," from Which Way is East (ECM, 2004), Lloyd's intimate duo album with Billy Higgins, recorded shortly before the iconic drummer's passing in 2001.
Positioned near Mirror's conclusion, these tracks contrast powerfully with Lloyd's title trackoriginally on his 1989 ECM debut, Fish Out of Water, but delivered here with a touch more energy and plenty more commitmentand an equally direct look at "Desolation Sound," from Canto (ECM, 1994). Throughout Lloyd's previously visited originals, traditional spirituals (The Water is Wide's title track, here, going straight to church) and standards, Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers propel the music with more egalitarian interest. Two Monk tunesthe balladic "Ruby, My Dear" and rubato "Monk's Mood"demonstrate Moran's inescapable roots, while Lloyd turns "Caroline, No," from The Beach Boys' classic Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966), into a thing of simmering beauty.
Saving the best for last, Lloyd's gentle narration on Which Way is East's "Tagi"layered over a backdrop of Rogers' arco and Moran's impressionistic pianismis nothing short of transcendental. Ebbing and flowing with spiritual profundity, Lloyd turns to saxophone for a modal solo driven by Harland's intensifying pulse, before the quartet dissolves for a tranquil coda, bringing Mirror full circle.
While not turning entirely away from the Rabo De Nube's unfettered freedom, Mirror's greatest success is its quartet's palpably growing sense of trust, allowing the freedom to explore without the compulsion to resort to the obvious or the melodramatic. Instead, the smallest gestures become amplified, as Mirror continues to bolster Lloyd's latest ensemble as one of the bestand certainly the freestof his long career.
Track Listing: I Fall in Love Too Easily (For Lily); Go Down Moses; Desolation Sound; La Llorona; Caroline, No; Monk's Mood; Mirror; Ruby, My Dear; The Water is Wide; Life Every Voice and Sing; Being and Becoming, Road to Dakshineswar With Sangeeta; Tagi.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor and alto saxophones, voice; Jason Moran: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums.