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Charles Lloyd & the Marvels with Lucinda Williams at Zellerbach Hall

Harry S. Pariser By

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Charles Lloyd & the Marvels with Lucinda Williams
Zellerbach Hall
Berkeley, CA
December 6, 2018

It isn't often that a pedal steel guitar is found in a jazz ensemble. And it is even less frequent that a country music singer-songwriter joins one on vocals. But this iconoclastic collaboration had its genesis when jazz guitarist Bill Frisell teamed up with pedal steel player Greg Leisz. Leisz and Frisell invited Lucinda Williams to a Marvels concert, where she was introduced to octogenarian saxophone great Lloyd. Their shared Southern roots helped them hit it off, although jazz patriarch Lloyd is no stranger to popular music collaborations, having played with the Doors, the Grateful Dead and the The Beach Boys, amongst others. The ultimate result of this fortuitous encounter was the recording of Charles Lloyd & The Marvels' second album (and accompanying tour), Vanished Gardens (Blue Note, 2018), this time also including Williams.

Lloyd has long been a musician of distinction. Born in Memphis in 1938, this master of the tenor saxophone and flute (amongst other instruments) has an unusual ethnic mix (Irish, Cherokee, African, and Mongolian), which mirrors the vast number of musical styles he has pursued throughout his career. After appearing onstage with stars like Booker Little as a teenager, Lloyd went on to play with many blues greats in his home town before moving to Los Angeles in 1956. There, he performed with greats Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and Don Cherry's band in 1960. When not on the road, Lloyd played with legendary African drummer Olatunji. A two-year stint with Julian "Cannonball" Adderley led to the saxophonist's first recordings as a leader, for Columbia Records.

Lloyd's fruitful collaboration with bassist Cecil McBee, pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette led to Forest Flower (Columbia, 1966), alongside Dave Brubeck's Time Out (Columbia, 1959) as one of the first jazz albums to sell more than a million copies. His quartet also became the first jazz ensemble to play San Francisco's Fillmore West, with Down Beat's poll ranking him as "Jazz Artist of the Year."

Williams is no slacker herself, having been named "America's best songwriter" by Time Magazine (2002), with Rolling Stone calling her one of the "100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time" in 2017. Other accomplishments range from winning a lifetime achievement Americana Award for songwriting in 2011 and releasing more than a dozen CDs—even recording a duet with Elvis Costello.

Onstage, at Berkley's Zellerbach Hall as part of CAL PERFORMANCES, Charles Lloyd & the Marvels played alone for the first hour, before inviting the inimitable Williams to join them for the rest of the evening.

Thelonious Monk's "Peace" was first, with Lloyd opening on tenor before Frisell joined in. The sound shifted to a groove featuring the inimitable, spacey sound of Leisz's pedal steel complimenting Frisell. The title track to Frisell's Rambler (ECM, 1985) followed, including solos from Lloyd and the guitarist.

Lloyd's upbeat "Defiant" featured innovative work with the sticks by drummer Eric Harland, and solo from double bassist Reuben Rogers. Plaintive sax marked the beginning of Lloyd's "Nu Blues," while the traditional "Shenandoah" brought Leisz's talents to the fore, with a tenor solo taking it to its conclusion. Lloyd's title tune from his second album, Of Course, Of Course (Columbia, 1965), was a very jaunty, Caribbean-like excursion on flute, bringing the first part of the evening to a close.

Williams, in her black leather jacket, then stepped out onstage, launching into the ensemble's version of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," her throaty voice front and center. The Dylan anti-war classic was followed by "Dust," a tune adapted from a poem written by the singer's' father, Miller Williams, dubbed by one critic as "the Hank Williams of American poetry":

"It's a sadness so deep the sun seems black
And you don't have to try to keep the tears back
No you don't have to try to keep the tears back
Cause you couldn't cry if you wanted to."

Williams gesticulated during "Ventura," a song about wanting to be someplace else —someplace where one can listen to Neil Young, watch the sunset and get swallowed up by "an ocean of love." Leisz and Lloyd provided plenty of soulful ambience on pedal steel and sax respectively. Lloyd's sax solo commenced another Williams tune, "We've Come Too Far to Turn Around," which was followed by "A Place in My Heart" which featured some great sax and guitar work. Lyrical sax led the way into an evocative version of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel," which ended the evening:

"And I said,
Fly on my sweet angel
Fly on through the sky
Fly on my sweet angel
Forever I will be by your side."

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