Charles Lloyd / Jason Moran: Hagar's Song (2013)
Saxophonist/composer Charles Lloyd's 16 albums for ECM since the late 1980s represent a body of work as important as the influential recordings he made for Columbia and Atlantic in the 1960s. Lloyd's recordings with his latest quartet, Rabo de Nube (2008), Mirror (2010), Athen's Concert (2011) and, now, Hagar's Song, stand together as a special chapter in Lloyd's ECM story for the often transcendental quality of the music. Pianist Jason Moran has been an integral part of Lloyd's quartet since 2007, and here the two perform intimate renditions of songs beloved by Lloyd, plus a captivating 26-minute suite.
Faithful melodic portraits of composer Billy Strayhorn's "Pretty Girl" and pianist/composer Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" are embellished with brief but scintillating improvisational flourishes. The heartfelt nostalgia in Lloyd's lyricism and Moran's Thelonious Monk-like gaiety makes for homage that is both touching and fun. The Gershwins' "Bess, You is My Woman Now" and Joe Greer's "All About Ronnie" fit snugly together, bound by Lloyd and Moran's delicate, emotive phrasing. Lloyd plays alto saxophone on the more abstract "Pictogram," a freely improvised piece where the two musicians seemingly follow their own muse. A melancholy melody emerges from all the pot-stirring, paving the way for a deeply felt rendition of Bill Carey/Carl Fischer's "You've Changed."
The five-part "Hagar's Suite" charts the history of Lloyd's great-great grandmother, taken from her family and sold to another slave owner. Lloyd's African and Native American roots echo in the bass flute and Moran's quasi-ritualistic tambourine on the eerie "The Journey Up River." Lloyd's stark tenor lines on "Dreams of White Bluff" twist and crythe personification of a pained soul; the absence of rhythmic pulse and the dissonance in Lloyd and Moran's improvisations suggest Hagar's lack of any compass. The insistent, low rumble of Moran's left hand and constant tambourine evoke restlessness and disquiet on "Alone" and "Bolivar Blues," as Lloyd weaves plaintive blues lines on alto flute and saxophone. Serenity, tempered by the blues, pervades "Hagar's Lullaby" and represents Hagar's conflicting emotions, having been impregnated by her slave owner at the age of 14.
Joyful interplay colors pianist Earl Hines theme "Rosetta," with Moran demonstrating a feel for Hine's orchestral idiom that was influential to many, notably pianist Ahmad Jamal. The duo's version of Bob Dylan's "I Shall be Released" provides poignant and lyrical homage to The Band's drummer/vocalist Levon Helm, who died just days before this recording. Lloyd returns to familiar stomping grounds on a gently upbeat interpretation of Brian Wilson/Tony Asher's "God Only Knows," a tune the saxophonist must have played many times during his tours with the Beach Boys in the 1970s.
"Hagar's Suite" one of Lloyd's most personal statementsmay be the compositional gem in this recording, yet part of its strength derives from the contrast between its often desolate melancholy and the warm lyricism in the other compositions which frame it. The evident trust between Lloyd and Moran results in playing of boundless freedom. Together, they sprinkle a little magic dust on tunes old and new, but timeless all.
Track Listing: Pretty Girl; Mood Indigo; Bess, You Is My Woman Now; All About Ronnie; Pictogram; You've Changed; Hagar Suite: I. Journey Up the River, II. Dreams of White Bluff, III. Alone, IV. Bolivar Blues, V. Hagar's Lullaby; Rosetta; I Shall Be Released; God Only Knows.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor and alto saxophones, bass and alto flutes; Jason Moran: piano, tambourine.