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11

Charles Lloyd: Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories

Dan Bilawsky By

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Manhattan Stories is a trip back in time, a journey to a long gone and long-missed era. It's a window into the great Charles Lloyd's art at a period of transition. The shows presented on this beautifully packaged two-disc set—one recorded at the infamous Slugs' Saloon in the summer of 1965, the other recorded at Judson Hall in September of the same year—took place shortly after Lloyd left the employ of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and before he became a cross-over sensation and hero to hippies, moving a million units of Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd At Monterey (Atlantic, 1966).

In terms of chronology and discography, these shows line up best with Of Course, Of Course (Columbia, 1965), an album that was recorded across multiple sessions in 1964 and 1965. Said album, in its original state, featured Lloyd alongside bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Gabor Szabo, and drummer Tony Williams; when Mosaic Records reissued the album in 2006 as part of its Mosaic Singles line, bonus tracks from October of 1965 were added, with bassist Albert Stinson and drummer Pete La Roca replacing the Carter-Williams combination on two tracks—"Island Blues" and "Sun Dance"—and guitarist Robbie Robertson making an appearance on the latter number. Here, on both sets, it's Lloyd, Szabo, Carter and La Roca—the Charles Lloyd Quartet of the time—making magic.

The Judson Hall show, one part of the 1965 edition of Charlotte Moorman's New York Festival of the Avant-Garde, is Lloyd at his finest. He plays like a man possessed during a lengthy "Sweet Georgia Bright," a number which features some awe-inspiring exchanges and overlaps between his saxophone and Szabo's brittle-toned guitar. "How Can I Tell You" is a tender musical expression with memorable solo work, but it doesn't play out as expected. When La Roca's drums are in full bloom they push against the dreamy nature of the piece. The quartet finishes off with Szabo's "Lady Gabor," a mystery-laced number. The show only lasts a bit longer than forty minutes, but these men make every second count. And while it would be decades before Lloyd would take on the mantle of musical spirit guide on his ECM releases, traces of that artist-to-be can be found here, both during his saxophone cadenza toward the end of "How Can I Tell" and through his flute wanderings on "Lady Gabor."

The set from Slugs' Saloon starts out as a snapshot of a noisy room, but the music quickly reorients the ears. The program starts out with "Slugs' Blues," a loping number with a slightly Monk-ish quality that heats up as it moves on. "Lady Gabor" comes next, coming across as a more intriguing alternative to the version from Judson Hall. Szabo's trance-inducing guitar work steals the show, La Roca is nimble and deft, and Carter provides ballast throughout; his bass is heard and felt here. The final number from this performance is a "Dream Weaver" that flows and grooves.

The sound quality police—yes, those persnickety people who split hairs and then split them again—will probably quibble over trivial things on this one, but the sound quality is actually remarkably good considering the circumstances of these recordings. No matter how you slice it, this is significant music that needs to be heard in order to fully appreciate the full scope of an important artist's work. This is musical manna, not from heaven, but from the horn(s) of Charles Lloyd.

Track Listing: CD1: Sweet Georgia Bright; How Can I Tell You; Lady Gabor; CD2: Slugs’ Blues; Lady Gabor; Dream Weaver.

Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, flute; Gábor Szabó: guitar; Ron Carter: bass; drummer Pete La Roca: drums.

Title: Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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