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Charles Lloyd: Defiant Warrior Still On Song

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Ever the dreamer, I naively thought I could wipe out the ugliness in the world with beauty. In this era of my youth there was a collective effort through song, through protest, through writing, through art—to right the ship. I was intent on making a contribution.
—Charles Lloyd
As fool's errands go, few compare with selecting a Top Ten Albums collection from Charles Lloyd's extensive top-drawer output. But here goes. Lloyd newbies could consider the list a launch pad, and seasoned fans can compare the choices with their own...

Anyone going to jazz festivals in summer 1966, and lucky enough to catch the Charles Lloyd Quartet, will likely have one tune in particular imprinted on their memory. Not because Lloyd had already twice recorded "Forest Flower"—first with Chico Hamilton, then under his own name, on albums released in 1964—but because with his new quartet featuring Keith Jarrett, and with its new arrangement, the tune now precisely reflected the psychedelic zeitgeist blossoming in Europe and the US. Lloyd, Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette lit up the Juans-Les-Pins Jazz Festival in Antibes, France, and other European festivals, with "Forest Flower" in July 1966, and recorded it at the Monterey Festival two months later.

When Forest Flower (Atlantic) was released in early 1967, it was the first jazz album to chime with the emerging counterculture. "I play love vibrations," Lloyd told Time magazine that year. "I bring everyone together in a joyous dance." It might be argued that John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) had already rung that bell, or that Pharoah Sanders' Tauhid (Impulse!, 1967) was a close runner-up. Whatever. In its first year, Forest Flower massively outsold both those albums. Regardless of relative sales rankings, all three discs could be filed next to Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde (Columbia, 1966) and the Beatles' Revolver (Parlophone, 1966).

And still, in 2024, Lloyd is hitting the spot, with his 2CD set The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow (Blue Note). Check the opening track, "Defiant, Tender Warrior," in the YouTube at the conclusion of this article.

After serving his apprenticeship in the first half of the 1960s as musical director of Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley's bands, spending around two years with each, Lloyd formed his classic quartet in early 1966. The musical concept was Lloyd's, but the contribution Keith Jarrett made to the music cannot be overestimated. The band was a highwater mark of its era, as is apparent on the albums made for Atlantic between 1966 and 1968. Three of them are included in the Top Ten Albums list below.

The break-up of the classic quartet

The demise of the classic quartet in 1968 was fractious, with money unsurprisingly cast as the villain. In Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music (Grafton, 1991), author Ian Carr reported allegations by Jarrett, bassist Ron McClure (who replaced Cecil McBee in late 1966) and DeJohnette that Lloyd concealed the scale of the quartet's substantial appearance fees and kept the lion's share of earnings for himself, while generally treating the musicians, who, perhaps naively, believed they were equal partners in the enterprise, like the hired help. Carr concluded that, despite Lloyd's image as a new kind of musician, he behaved like "the old [discredited] kind of jazz bandleader."

But recollections may vary and perceived injustices may be viewed differently following the passage of time. In his brief essay in the liner booklet of Montreux Jazz Festival 1967 (TCB), released in 2019, Ron McClure had nothing but good to say of his time with Lloyd. "My tenure with this group was a life experience that changed and enlightened me on many levels," wrote McClure. "This wasn't a band. It was a movement, a shining beacon of light in the world of music. Nothing compares to what I gained from the years I spent in the Charles Lloyd Quartet." DeJohnette is quoted saying: "We were all young, full of ego and occasionally played great music."

The booklet, however, contains no words from Jarrett. But when Lloyd signed with ECM in 1989, Jarrett had been the label's most productive artist for almost two decades; if he still bore a grudge against Lloyd, it seems inconceivable that ECM founder Manfred Eicher would have signed him. Then again, Lloyd and Jarrett did not begin recording together again either (the prospect of which would have had a more commercially driven label's finance department over-ventilating with excitement).

Anyway, however the cards fell in 1968, time moves on. Lloyd, Jarrett, McBee, McClure and Johnette each went on to successful careers. Lloyd was away for much of the 1970s; we do not really know why, though his work with members of the Beach Boys and Quicksilver Messenger Service offers a hint. But he returned in 1982 with Montreux 82 (Elektra/Musician, 1983), with Michel Petrucciani on piano. It is a fine album. Productive relationships with ECM and Blue Note followed.

In the notes to The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow, Lloyd, referring to the Forest Flower era, says: "Ever the dreamer—as a young man—I naively thought I could wipe out the ugliness in the world with beauty. In this era of my youth there was a collective effort through song, through protest, through writing, through art—to right the ship. I was intent on making a contribution to humanity. For a brief time we perceived a change, but it was not lasting and began to crumble. In my wildest dreams I never imagined the world to be in this place. Now."

But Lloyd is not giving up. He concludes his liner note thus: "And so, All My Relations, my inclination to put down the saxophone and go back to the woods has been staved off for another season. This is my offering to you."

Charles Lloyd: Ten Essential Albums

Lloyd recorded sixteen albums for ECM between 1989 and 2012 and each of them is good enough to justify a place in this Top Ten. The same can be said of the ten Blue Notes recorded between 2013 and 2023. The three ECMs and two Blue Notes which figure below may thus be regarded simply as personal favourites.

Chico Hamilton Quintet
Man From Two Worlds
Impulse!
1964

Lloyd began making his mark in 1960, when he replaced Eric Dolphy as musical director of Chico Hamilton's band, becoming its chief composer by the close of 1961. All Lloyd's albums with Hamilton are recommended. Man From Two Worlds, the seventh, heads up this Top Ten because it includes the first recorded version of "Forest Flower." There are textural and emotional differences with the 1966 Monterey recording: guitarist Gabor Szabo, who solos twice, brings an altogether different feel than did Keith Jarrett. The final section has a pronounced calypsonian flavour; in the closing minute, however, Lloyd and Szabo explore the same upper register, trippy vibe that Lloyd and Jarrett would lock on to. Not so much a flashback then as a flashforward.

Charles Lloyd
Discovery!
Columbia
1964

Lloyd's debut under his own name, recorded six months after Man From Two Worlds. The band is a quartet, with Don Friedman on piano, Eddie Khan and Richard Davis alternating on bass, and Roy Haynes and J.C. Moses alternating on drums. All bar one of the tunes are Lloyd originals, the exception being Henry Mancini's "Days Of Wine And Roses." And guess what? "Forest Flower" is one of the originals. Indeed, it opens the album, in a brisk hard-bop arrangement climaxing with a high-energy tenor workout. Clearly, Lloyd knew he had a potential hit on his hands—but hard bop was not the format that would deliver it. By the time Lloyd got to Monterey in September 1966, however, he had pitched the arrangement to perfection and, crucially, by February 1967 when Forest Flower was released, there existed an audience ready and waiting for its acid-drenched vibe. But that is getting ahead of things. First Lloyd had to assemble the right quartet ....

Charles Lloyd Quartet
Dream Weaver
Atlantic
1966

.... Which he did in early 1966. Dream Weaver, recorded in late March that year, was the album which launched the Lloyd/Jarrett/McBee/DeJohnette band and laid the groundwork for Forest Flower. The disc opens with the three-part "Autumn Suite," built around the standard "Autumn Leaves," which Lloyd had recorded on The Chico Hamilton Special (Columbia, 1961). While affirming the quartet's place in the tradition, Lloyd's 1966 arrangement of the tune takes it into fresh territory, particularly through his soulful flute and Jarrett's penchant for reaching inside the piano to play the strings harp-fashion. Lloyd is on tenor for the next three tracks, the originals "Dream Weaver," "Bird Flight" and "Love Ship," establishing his consonant interpretation of John Coltrane's more harmonically adventurous initiatives. Back on flute for the closing original "Sombrero Sam," the group members double on a variety of percussion instruments including hip 1966's percussion instrument du jour, a Tibetan prayer bell (borrowed from co-producer George Avakian). Haight-Ashbury, or rather the Fillmore West, here we come, via Monterey ....

Charles Lloyd
Forest Flower
Atlantic
1967

Recorded at the Monterey jazz festival on September 18, 1966, "Forest Flower: Sunrise" and "Forest Flower: Sunset" make up the first seventeen minutes of Forest Flower, in spellbinding performances in which Jarrett, particularly on "Sunset," contributes every bit as much of the magic as does Lloyd. The rest of the album also precisely reflected the out-there zeitgeist blossoming in Europe and the US: Jarrett's firecracker, "Sorcery," on which he and Lloyd (on flute) go beyond consonance to touch on territory adjacent to Cecil Taylor; McBee's lovely ballad "Song Of Her," like "Sorcery" recorded in the studio ten days before Monterey, with dubbed on audience applause; and, back live at Monterey, the closing "East Of Sun," in which Lloyd faces off Stan Getz's up to this point definitive reading and Jarrett closes the performance with his own pyrotechnics. When it was released in 1967, Forest Flower became jazz's biggest crossover hit to date. All these years later, its appeal endures. Rewind, first, to rock palace the Fillmore West ....

Charles Lloyd Quartet
Love-In
Atlantic
1967

Patchy it might be—Lloyd's flute ditty "Temple Bells" and Lennon and McCartney's "Here There And Everywhere" make too many concessions to the audience at San Francisco's Fillmore West, where this album was recorded in January 1967. But the low points are brief, and Jarrett's solo on the second tune is enduringly good. The highs provide ample redress: Lloyd's gritty opener "Tribal Dance," two Jarrett pieces, the funky "Is It Really The Same?" and gospel-infused Jarrett feature "Sunday Morning," and Lloyd's exuberant closer, "Memphis Dues Again/Island Blues," are substantial. Originally planned as a half-hour filler appearance, the Fillmore audience responded so enthusiastically that the Quartet played for over ninety minutes; at the end of 1967 Atlantic released a second album from the same event, Journey Within. Miles Davis, by the way, is sometimes credited with being the first jazz artist to appear at the Fillmores, but it was not until 1970 that he played the Fillmore East; by which time Jarrett and DeJohnette had joined his band.

Charles Lloyd
The Water Is Wide
ECM
2000

And with one bound we leap forward 33 years, such is the extent of Lloyd's discography .... With the exception of those Beach Boys/QMS sessions in the 1970s, Lloyd had recorded with quartets almost exclusively since his first own-name album, Discovery!, in 1964. For The Water Is Wide, his seventh ECM release, he expanded to a quintet with Brad Mehldau, John Abercrombie, Larry Grenadier and Billy Higgins. Though Mehldau and Abercrombie leave plenty of space for each other, the addition of Abercrombie's guitar gives a slightly thicker quality to the sound. The album is also unusual, in Lloyd's ECM output to date, for its high proportion of jazz standards and rearranged traditional material: only five of the twelve tunes are Lloyd originals. The covers include Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia," Duke Ellington's "Black Butterfly" and "Heaven," Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom" and (first heard on Forest Flower) Cecil McBee's "Song Of Her." The traditional tunes are the title track and the spiritual "There Is A Balm In Gilead." The Water Is Wide is an uncomplicated and joyful celebration of some great tunes. Relatively unambitious, perhaps, but absolutely delightful.

Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins
Which Way Is East
ECM
2004

Lloyd's musical relationship with Billy Higgins was among the closest he has enjoyed to date, and possibly his closest spiritual relationship with another musician, too. Which Way Is East, a duo album, was recorded in January 2001, some four months before Higgins passed. Unusually for an ECM release it contains a lengthy liner note, the transcript of a conversation between Lloyd and Higgins which occurred sometime between the recording of the album and Higgins' passing in May that year. Music making is centre stage and mortality is hovering in the wings: both men know Higgins' days are numbered. The words are, of course, moving, but the big takeaway is the light shed on Lloyd and Higgins' approach to musicmaking. The 2CD album is divided into eight suites; some of the heads are by Lloyd, some are by Higgins and some are co-written. Lloyd is heard on tenor and alto saxophones, bass, alto and C flutes, piano, taragato, Tibetan oboe, percussion, maracas and voice. Higgins is heard on drums, guitar, guimbri, Syrian one-string lute, Senegalese, Guinean and Indian hand drums, Juno's wood box, percussion and voice. Playing time is two hours and twenty-five minutes and the two musicians are at their exalted best throughout.

Charles Lloyd
Lift Every Voice
ECM
2002

Another double album and another deep one. Recorded in January and February 2002, Lift Every Voice is Lloyd's response to 9/11. He leads the The Water Is Wide sextet with Mehldau replaced by Geri Allen, Higgins by Billy Hart, and on some tracks Grenadier by Marc Johnson. Lloyd plays tenor saxophone, flute and taragato. As one would expect, his response to the outrage is free of negative emotions and is variously bewildered, prayerful, mournful, determined and facing forward. The eighteen tracks are a mix of originals and covers. The track titles convey where the album is coming from, and where it is headed; they include Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count," Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful," the traditional "Lift Every Voice And Sing," "Go Down Moses" and "Deep River," and Lloyd's "Hymn To The Mother," "Nocturne" and closing "Prayer, The Crossing."

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels
Tone Poem
Blue Note
2021

As we grow older, many of us become set in our ways. Others, Lloyd among them, venture into new territory, while, in Lloyd's case, digging deeper into what they have already achieved. Tone Poem is Lloyd's third album with The Marvels, a twin-guitar quintet completed by guitarists Bill Frisell and, on steel guitar, Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. There are three Lloyd originals plus Ornette Coleman's "Peace" and "Ramblin,'" Thelonious Monk's "Monk's Mood," Villa Fernandez Ignacio Jacinto's "Ay Amor" and Gabor Szabo's "Lady Gabor," a tune Lloyd has returned to several times since first recording it with Szabo on Chico Hamilton's Passin' Thru (Impulse!) in 1963. Lloyd's first album with The Marvels, I Long To See You (Blue Note, 2016) had singers Norah Jones and Willie Nelson, each on one track, and sophomore set Vanished Garden (Blue Note, 2018) had Lucinda Williams on five of its ten tracks. There are no vocals on Tone Poem but it still sings.

Charles Lloyd
The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow
Blue Note
2024

Lloyd returns to quartet format for this magnificent 2024 2CD set, with a new lineup completed by pianist Jason Moran, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade. Moran and Grenadier have recorded with Lloyd before; Blade is the new guy, though Lloyd writes in his liner notes that he was scheduled to perform with Lloyd's band at New York's Town Hall in 1995, graciously bowing out when a post-operative Billy Higgins declared himself fit enough to rejoin the lineup. Some of the material is familiar, including Lloyd's tribute to Nelson Mandela, "Cape To Cairo," which goes back to 1995's All My Relations (ECM), and is, arguably, stronger here for its concision, and the traditional "Balm In Gilead" to 2000's The Water Is Wide (ECM). The treatments are different, just as Lloyd's multiple recordings of "Forest Flower" have developed over time, adhering to the concept the poet T.S. Eliot put forward in his essay Tradition And The Individual Talent: "The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past." Lloyd continues to be altered by the present as much as he is directed by the past, and his music is thus both affirms tradition and redefines it.

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