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Charles Lloyd: Confluence

Russ Musto By

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Zakir, Eric and I may come from different backgrounds, but it is a small planet and we are here on the homeward journey together.
Charles Lloyd"It's all part of a continuum, Charles Lloyd says about the music of his new trio with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland. "Sangam is a confluence, a meeting—it's a supercharged atmosphere when we get together. We play in the now, looking for the One. Zakir, Eric and I may come from different backgrounds, but it is a small planet and we are here on the homeward journey together.

Charles Lloyd's "journey is one of the more intriguing stories in jazz. Born in Memphis, Tenn., on March 15th, 1938, he got his first saxophone at the age of ten. "I started out on alto, he remembers, "and while Bird was my 'all in all', I also loved Johnny Hodges and Lee Konitz's sound. Lloyd studied informally with the great pianist Phineas Newborn and formally at Manansas High School (where Jimmie Lunceford had once taught). His fellow students included Booker Little (his best friend), Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern and George Coleman (then as now a strict taskmaster, who challenged his peers to develop both technical and musical virtuosity). His first professional gigs were with bluesmen Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf.

Even as a teenager Lloyd's musical tastes were diverse. In addition to his love of jazz and blues he developed a strong interest in classical music. "I had been drawn to the sheer transcendence of J.S. Bach and the late string quartets of Beethoven, he recalls, "and Bartók, with the way he tapped into his native folk melodies. His interest in the latter led to his matriculation at USC, where he studied composition. "When I was in college in Los Angeles, there was a rich cauldron of music makers all around me—as there had been in Memphis, he continues. "There was Gerald Wilson's big band, which we all played in. At various times, in the reeds were Harold Land, Walter Benton, Clifford Jordan, Eric Dolphy, Ornette and myself. Some of the other musicians were Don Cherry, Lester Robinson, Garnett Brown, Horace Tapscott, Frank Butler, Elmo Hope ... I jammed at night with Master [Billy] Higgins, Scotty LaFaro, Bobby Hutcherson, Cherry and many others.

When Dolphy left Chico Hamilton's band in 1960 to join Charles Mingus, Lloyd succeeded his altoist friend in the innovative drummer's group. After a year of playing alto (and flute) in the Hamilton quintet that featured Nate Gershman on cello, Lloyd switched to tenor and took over as music director.

Under his direction the course of the band, which now included Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, noticeably changed, as evidenced on the album Drumfusion, a date comprised entirely of Lloyd compositions. He says, "At the time, I was listening to recordings of Bismallah Khan and got to hear Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. When I discovered this music and heard how they could bend the notes—it was so soulful and took me back to my childhood and the blues in Byhalia, Mississippi—I introduced Gabor to Indian music; he had already heard the music of the Roma people in his native Hungary and he began to bend his notes, even more, in that Eastern direction. The startling effect can be heard on Hamilton's classic Impulse album, Man from Two Worlds, which features an early recording of Lloyd's "Forest Flower .

Soon afterwards, Lloyd joined Cannonball Adderley's Sextet, replacing Yusef Lateef, who ironically would similarly move on to a pioneering role in the as yet unnamed world music movement. While still touring and/or recording with Cannon and Chico, Lloyd made his first albums as a leader, Discovery and Of Course, Of Course, for Columbia. The latter, newly reissued by Mosaic, is a groundbreaking quartet date with Szabo and the Miles Davis rhythm team of Ron Carter and Tony Williams, but it was Lloyd's next foursome, featuring the virtually unknown rhythm section of Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette that would soon make history.

In 1966, touring after their first studio recording, Dream Weaver, which featured an intellectual looking Lloyd with a full Afro, wearing a three piece pinstriped suit on the cover, the quartet performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The group's set, including an extended version of Lloyd's "Forest Flower , was issued with the previously recorded tune as the title track.

Charles Lloyd The album Forest Flower became the first jazz record to sell a million copies, earning the group tours of Europe and Russia and appearances in America in rock venues like the Fillmore West, where they shared bills with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. With Ron McClure replacing McBee, the group recorded a series of live albums—Love In, Journey Within, In The Soviet Union and Soundtrack—that reflected Lloyd's early worldview of jazz.

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