It's fitting that the shimmeringly beautiful Rabo De Nube, which is being released to celebrate reed player Charles Lloyd's 70th birthday on March 15, 2008, is a live album. Lloyd became a star forty years ago with a series of paradigm-shifting live discs recorded on a seemingly never-ending tour of the USA and Europeseven of them altogether, starting with Forest Flower (Atlantic, 1966) and ending with Soundtrack (Atlantic, 1968).
Intentionally or not, Rabo De Nube, recorded in Switzerland in 2007, and seeped in the same spirit as those momentous earlier performances, goes some way towards completing the circle.
Along with fellow saxophonists John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and pianist/harpist Alice Coltrane, Lloyd in the 1960s sculpted a style of jazz which predated the emergence of "world music" by some 20 years. His rainbow hued, exotically textured performances precisely reflected the zeitgeist, and, to the displeasure of the jazz police, found an enthusiastic following amongst the more adventurous end of the rock audienceLove-In (Atlantic, 1967) was recorded at the acid-drenched Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
Like its predecessors in the outstanding, second-wind run of discs he's recorded for ECM since 1989, Rabo De Nube finds Lloyd's aesthetic essentially unchanged. A pan-ethnic, mantra-like vibe remains centrestage in his playing, and bells and incense still hang in the air around it. The mesmerising, dervish intensity of "Ramanujan," with Lloyd on his preferred alternative to the soprano saxophone, the reedy Persian-derived tarogato, would have fit perfectly on any of the early Atlantic albums.
What has changed is the emotional depth of Lloyd's music. The albums of the late 1960s were in the main sunny and bright, as befitted the optimism of those years. On ECM, Lloyd has, in addition, explored darker terrains. On Rabo De Nube, the gorgeous lyricism of "Migration Of Spirit" and "Sweet Georgia Bright," a longtime live favorite, is balanced by the edgy astringency of "Prometheus"a refashioning of "The Crossing" from Lift Every Voice (ECM, 2002)and the elegaic "Booker's Garden," composed in memory of Lloyd's childhood friend, the trumpeter Booker Little (1938-61).
Lloyd's 1960s quartet, which also made a star of the pianist Keith Jarrett, was pure heaven. The new quartet, with Jason Moran replacing Geri Allen, pianist on the last quartet album, Jumping The Creek (ECM, 2005), gets close enough to kiss it. Moran is an inspired inclusion. His percussive, chordal comping is a perfect foil for Lloyd's supple, diaphonous lines, and his exuberant solo flights recall the youthful Jarrett of Atlantic-era stormers like "Sombrero Sam."
An awesome performance from an elder statesman who has kept the faithand shows no sign of slowing up. Long may he continue to delight and uplift us.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, alto flute, taragato; Jason Moran: piano; Reuben Rogers: double bass; Eric Harland: drums, percussion.