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2013 Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 2, 2013

John Kelman By

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For the first half of their roughly 90-minute performance, Lloyd and Jason Moran demonstrated why their first recording as a duo, Hagar's Song (ECM, 2013), was such a wonderful surprise. The two have been playing together in the saxophonist/flautist's quartet for nearly seven years, and have developed a language that's become increasingly profound with each passing year. Moran—first emerging in the late 1990s with saxophonist Greg Osby and his own Soundtrack to Human Motion (Blue Note, 1999)—has proven himself as encyclopedic a player as fellow pianist Craig Taborn, with a deep understanding of the tradition that makes him the ideal partner for Lloyd, whose musical interests have always run far, wide and deep.



In performance, Moran and Lloyd—sticking, for this evening, to just tenor saxophone and flute, and leaving his taragato in its case—delivered a forty-minute set that ran the gamut, as they did on Hagar's Song, from bold impressionism to near-stride traditionalism, all with the interpretive telepathy that only comes from considerable time spent in the studio and, in particular, on the road. Lloyd was particularly impressive on flute this evening, as Moran matched his partner's flurry-filled phrases with trilling lines of his own. And when Lloyd turned more contemplative, Moran was right there with the sparest of accompaniment—and when playing a cappella, proving that it really is time for a follow-up to his fine 2002 solo outing, Modernistic (Blue Note). The real surprise of the evening was when guitarist Bill Frisell entered the stage, Lloyd advising the audience, "This is a first meeting; please be kind." Not that he needed to ask; Frisell has always been an incredibly malleable player, capable of fitting into any context. When the three began to play, it turned out that this was not to be simply the duos advertized in the program, but more often than not a trio, with Moran only leaving the stage a couple times, including when Lloyd introduced "Voice in the Night"—a tune he first performed in quartet with Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo on Of Course, Of Course (Columbia, 1965), also featuring bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams (telling the audience "they're here in spirit"). In the context of that duet, Frisell was his usual self: a sensitive and astute accompanist and lyrical yet distinctive soloist who delivered chordal passages that moved from simple triads to unexpectedly skewed dissonances.

Frisell's own work is sometimes criticized for moving too far away from the jazz tradition and being too much aligned with the Americana that's actually been a fundamental since the very beginning, but when the context is right—whether it's here with Lloyd, or in the nearly three-decade trio with Joe Lovano and Paul Motian—Frisell not only demonstrates his jazz chops are as strong as ever, but that they're always a part of the picture, in some way, shape or form. In an2011 All About Jazz interview, he expressed some frustration at the pigeonholing of his career into various artificial "periods"—ECM, Downtown, Americana—and here, with Lloyd, he demonstrated why. At this point in his career, Frisell's voice is instantly recognizable, regardless of the context, and it's because he's managed to build one predicated on a wide variety of musical interests—not unlike Lloyd who, while considered more closely tied to the jazz tradition, has performed with everyone from the Beach Boys to Canned Heat. For musicians like Lloyd, Moran and Frisell, it's all music, and if there's any artifice to be found in the musical spaces they inhabit, it's certainly not self-generated.

An underlying premise proven in Lloyd's two-part encore, when he first performed an absolutely beautiful version of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," with both Moran and Frisell. Lloyd introduced the tune by explaining how Levon Helm had just passed when he went into the studio to record Hagar's Song, his voice actually beginning to break with emotion when he referred to the founding member of The Band as "a dear friend." It was a tremendously touching moment; later, after the show, he said "I shouldn't really talk like that to the audience; I'm not that capable." To the contrary; feeling and sharing what was clearly a deep sense of loss only made the performance of "I Shall Be Released" and the evening closer, Brian Wilson and Tony Asher's "God Only Knows," all the more compelling, as Lloyd, Frisell and Moran played both songs straight from the heart.

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