Those who have been following Charles Lloyd on ECMas well as plenty of other peoplehave a real reason to rejoice. Sangam, Lloyd's first live recording for the label, is extremely well recorded and features a new configuration. The concert was part of an event entitled "Homage to Billy Higgins," which included a screening of Dorothy Darr's documentary Home, which recorded on film some of Higgins and Lloyd's last conversations together before Higgins died.
Lloyd has always had a mystical streak, as was evident on his early ECM albums with Bobo Stenson. His work with Higgins, especially the wonderful Which Way Is East (ECM, 2004), brought this feeling even more out in the open. The band he chose to bring to this Higgins memorial was not his regular quartet, but a trio with two percussionists: Eric Harland, who recently started playing in his other band; and Zakir Hussain, one of the world's premier tabla players. One might think that Sangam might be percussion-heavy or monotonous, but in fact the exact opposite is usually true.
It is quite clear that Harland has assimilated the feel of Indian rhythms, while Hussain enjoys playing outside of the box and venturing into the rhythmic territory of jazz. Together, they become like one person and can be extremely exciting; when one comes to the fore, the other listens and comments. This supple, dense, driving and hypnotic cushion supports Lloyd as he weaves his magic, lifting him up and carrying him forward. Lloyd knows a good thing when he hears it, dropping out many times and letting the percussionists go where they will.
The first track, "Dancing On One Foot," is a perfect example of the meshing of the drummers and Lloyd, but the central track, "Guman," is the high point of the set. Lloyd has just finished playing a more-than-passable solo piano piece, "Nataraj," which quotes from Wayne Shorter's "Infant Eyes," when shakers are heard and the piano begins a vamp of a single, short, low repeated note that continues with syncopation throughout the track. From the moment Hussain enters with an unearthly vocal line, the tension and goosebumps are almost unbearable. The music gradually becomes more complex and dense. The master musicians have the audience spellbound within a musical-spiritual web of direct emotional communication, and it really must be heard to be understood.
Charles Lloyd continues to change and make deeply touching and feeling music. Sangam lodged in my mind and heart and immediately became unforgettable.