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Charles Lloyd at SFJAZZ

Harry S. Pariser By

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Charles Lloyd
SFJAZZ
San Francisco, CA
April 24-26, 2015

Even in the idiosyncratic world of jazz, Charles Lloyd stands apart. Born in Memphis in 1938, Lloyd is a master of the tenor saxophone and flute. His ethnic mix—Irish, Cherokee, African, and Mongolian—mirrors the vast number of musical styles he has crossed paths with. Appearing onstage with stars such as Booker Little as a teenager, Lloyd went on to play with many blues greats in his home town. He moved to Los Angeles in 1956 where he connected with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy. Billy Higgins's band in 1960. When not on the road, he would play with legendary African drummer Olatunji. A two-year stint with Cannonball Adderley led to his first recordings with CBS records.

His fruitful collaboration with bassist Cecil McBee, pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette led to Forest Flower (Colombia, 1966), one of the first jazz albums to sell more than a million copies. His quartet became the first jazz ensemble to play the Fillmore in San Francisco, and Down Beat's poll ranked him "Jazz Artist of the Year."

Surprisingly, Lloyd went on to record as a sideman with the likes of The Doors, Canned Heat, Roger McGuinn and others before taking a rain check from jazz to perform and record with the The Beach Boys. Following a near fatal illness, he began recording for ECM Records in 1989 and went on to release a succession of recordings which brought him to this three-night stint at SFJAZZ.

Taking the stage on Friday, to mark the second night of his two-night West Coast premiere of his Wild Man Dance Suite(Blue Note Records, 2015), Lloyd commenced with a long-winded solo to introduce "Part 5 Rumination." Then, one of the evening's two surprising stars, lyra player Sokratis Sinopoulos, soloed. An ancient instrument with a thousand year history, the lyra (or lyre) produced extraordinary tonalities in Sinopoulos' able hands. Discordant, sometimes lyrical, it sounded at times like an edgy violin and at others like a scratchy erhu emitting a sound seeming to invoke loneliness and isolation.

Then it was the turn of 30-year-old pianist Gerald Clayton, his braids tied up behind his head, to solo methodically and meditative as drummer Harland pitched in, while Hungarian-born cimbalom player Miklós Lukács added background color through playing a beater with his left hand, while using his right as a percussive mallet on the strings.

And so it went throughout the suite: brushes and sticks used to good effect by Harland, bassist Joe Sanders soloing warmly and Lloyd lyrically with shining and soaring tones; and everyone in marvelous cohesion. A standing round of applause brought them back for "Tago," which was prefaced by a lovely tyra and bass duet. Not a word was said the entire evening. The music transcended speech.

As Lloyd describes it in a promotional interview: "I come from a tradition of wild yogis, I'm a Blues man on a spiritual path. The Blues come out of a quest for freedom—my spiritual path is the search for the liberation of the soul. The feeling of Wild Man Dance came to me in Spring of 2013."

For night two, Lloyd was joined by his "New Quartet," a band comprised of his longstanding working group of pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Harland. The most conventional in terms of format, this evening brought a score of lucid improvisational moments as well. Their long association together was evident in the playing; tunes included "Monk's Dance," "Monk's Mood," and "La Llorona" (the mythological weeping woman of Latin America).

Throughout the evening, Lloyd remained silent, focusing on the music. Then, towards the evening's end, he called the band before embarking on a series of non sequiturs. His remarks included "It has been very beautiful to be here... We are all God's children... Be kind to each other... The game is rigged." Then he touched on his time playing with Roosevelt Sykes and Big Mama Thornton before ending with "God Bless You" and "Take Care." The encore, prefaced by and followed with standing ovations, was "Passin Thru" followed by his legendary hit "Forest Flower."

The final evening saw the remarkable collaboration between Lloyd and his New Quartet rhythm section (Rogers and Harland) with guitarist Bill Frisell along with pedal steel and dobro player Greg Leisz (who has recorded a number of CDs with Frisell as well as with the Beach Boys).

The result was somewhat spacey country-influenced jazz. That evening, Lloyd started right in on flute on "Of Course Of Course" before moving over to tenor for "Strangest Dream." Lloyd played a few "country" numbers such as Frisell's version of "Shenandoah," "Abide with Me," and "Red River Valley. "Sombrero Sam" was also a flute number. White haired Frisell, clad in a red-and-green checked shirt, played sparingly at times, raucously at others. Leisz added color to his phrasing with pedal steel and (during one number) dobro. A standing ovation brought them back with Lloyd on flute for "Lady Gabor" and then on tenor for "La Llorona." Lloyd and crew then put their arms around each others shoulders, and then Lloyd pressed his hands together again in salute before departing.

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