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Charles Lloyd: Arrows Into Infinity

Nenad Georgievski By

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Charles Lloyd
Arrows Into Infinity
ECM Records
2014

Undoubtedly deserving the title modern day saxophone titan Charles Lloyd has made one of the most important contributions to the art better known as contemporary or modern jazz. Widely recognized as one of the most timeless and significant musicians in the history of jazz, his melodic sensibilities, playing style and compositions have delighted listeners and have influenced generations of musicians. Easily one of the most influential tenor saxophonists, the sound of this venerable saxophonist is recognizable in a matter of seconds.

Directed by Dorothy Darr, Lloyd's wife and manager, jointly with Jeffrey Morse, Arrows into Infinity pieces together Lloyd's career by using rarely seen clips from stage shows, never before seen homemade clips and a plethora of insightful interviews. The film follows a simple narrative that traces Lloyd's career, but instead of just investigating record after record by an army of anonymous commentators that would dissect his oeuvre, Lloyd tells about his artistry, other musicians he has worked with, the highs and lows of his life with additional insights provided by Lloyd's contemporaries, co-workers and friends(like saxophonist Ornette Coleman, pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist Robbie Robertson, drummers Jack DeJohnette and Eric Harland, pianist Jason Moran and his wife singer Alicia Hall Moran, producer and ECM head Manfred Eicher, producer and Blue Note label president Don Was or journalist and commentator Stanley Crouch, to name but a few) which help deepen and enliven his stories.

As the story is told, Lloyd was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and was exposed to jazz from a very early age as travelling jazz musicians, like pianists Duke Ellington and Count Basie or vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, would spend the night at his parent's house, as they didn't have where to lodge when in town. He received his saxophone when he was nine and soon he became hooked on jazz, by listening to late night radio broadcasts. Soon he learned the music from Memphis local notables like pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., saxophonist George Coleman, and trumpet great Booker Little, Lloyd's closest friend. Very soon, as a teenager he worked as a sideman for bluesmen Johnny Ace, Howlin' Wolf and guitarist BB King whenever they played in Memphis.

In the late 50's, he went to study classical music at the University of Southern California with Halsey Steven where he received a masters degree in music. Equally important was the education he received at the LA jazz circuit where he played with luminaries such as Ornette Coleman, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Scott LaFaro, saxophonist Eric Dolphy. Soon he moved to New York where he played at the local clubs and in 1964 he became a member of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's Sextet. But in 1965 he left the band to form his permanent quartet which after several changes permanently set on musicians such as Jack DeJohnette, pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Cecil McBee. It was interesting to hear Herbie Hancock reminiscing how he had to fill in for a whole week for a young pianist by the name of Keith Jarrett.

The band's first record was Dream Weaver (Atlantic, 1966) while the second Forest Flower (Atlantic, 1966) was recorded live at festival. At the time it was heralded as the first record to be sold in million copies. After all it received unprecedented airplay on the free-play FM rock radio stations. Later The Quartet was the first group to appear at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco where it shared the bill with guitarist Jimi Hendrix, singer Janis Joplin, Cream, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. Rock musicians like drummer John Densmore of The Doors fame and Robbie Robertson of The Band give an insight of how the musicians from the rock world at the time looked upon his music. While Robertson played on Lloyd's second record Of Course, Of Course (Columbia, 1965), along with trumpeter Miles Davis' famed second quintet rhythm section, actually Lloyd played on the Doors' second post Jim Morrison record Full Circle (Electra, 1972). Very soon the band was invited to perform all around the world—countries of the Far East, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

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