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Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Los Angeles, California, September 25, 2010

Greg Camphire By
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Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Nate Holden Performing Arts Center
Los Angeles, California, USA
September 25, 2010

The audience at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles witnessed something akin to a Saturday night prayer service on September 25th, 2010. As Charles Lloyd led his New Quartet in support of their latest release, Mirror (ECM, 2010), the expansive set list drew on tunes from throughout Lloyd's long career. But the group dwelled fully in the present moment, with transcendent electricity that seemed to conjure spirits in the room from the first downbeat.

The performance began somberly, as news of L.A. jazz legend Buddy Collette's death was still reverberating through the community. Lloyd announced that "Requiem" would start things off, a humble dedication to the friend and mentor he affectionately referred to as "Master Collette." The song's drama was heightened in this context, and the players progressed through multi-layered depths of expression, conjuring swirls of rhythm that coalesced into the kind of straight-ahead swing that would make Collette proud. Lloyd's solo was pure heart, pianist Jason Moran's exploratory phrasing was full of the blues, and Reuben Rogers held it down with soulful, speech-like basslines. Afterwards, Lloyd took a few moments to offer words of thanks to Collette, highlighting his importance in the history of the Los Angeles jazz scene.

Referencing those times past, the group cast "Dream Weaver" (the title track to Lloyd's classic 1966 Atlantic album) as an incantatory spell. Eric Harland's drum mallets and Rogers' bowed bass summoned a rubato rhythm, as the abstract piece gradually became frenetic and muscular. Responding to Moran's rhapsodic sermonizing, Lloyd floated on top with calm meditations, shadowed by Harland's cymbals. Switching to brushes, the drummer constructed a fluid framework to support "Monk's Mood," and Moran's personal take on the composer colored the track with R&B shadings, though without any of that genre's clichés—like Thelonious Monk himself. The band hovered lyrically around Monk's melody, repeating the main line while simultaneously re-orchestrating miniature variations within and around it.

Lloyd's "Passin' Thru" has been in the saxophonist's repertoire since the early '60s, but this night's version was rewritten in the moment, beginning with a revelatory introduction by Rogers. Lloyd smiled at his young protégé, and the audience reacted to the unaccompanied bass solo with audible shouts of "amen." Harland entered with a fierce Latin beat, making it clear that this music is rooted in dance, and Lloyd commenced with fiery preaching against Moran's hip-hop-flavored accompaniment. The tension created was almost unbearable, and by the time Harland launched into an explosive extended solo, fans were visibly moved.

Offering a respite from the intensity, the quartet delved into the traditional Mexican folk song "La Llorona," a ballad introduced with a poignant Moran solo showcasing his deep mastery of the blues. Lloyd's saxophone cry embodied the heartbreak of the song's title character, a weeping mother, and he ended the tune on a perfect dissonant note, leaving it hanging in the air until it dissipated into silence. The pensive mood continued as Lloyd picked up the flute for "Beyond Darkness," a cathartic song that blew through the concert hall like a soul rising into the atmosphere. The only words necessary were spoken by Lloyd: "That was for Master Collette...and he has ascended."

Having established an aura of tranquility, the musicians eased into the melody of "Forest Flower," a longtime staple of Lloyd's live sets. The band toyed with the composition, dicing it into pieces and reassembling them into collage-like forms. Lloyd was obviously pleased with these musicians, and they in turn showed fearlessness and mutual trust in the ways they flipped the script on this often-played tune.

The crowd demanded an encore, so Lloyd obliged with a medley of "Life Every Voice and Sing" and Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday." The former was played with loose virtuosity, notes splashing across the air with impressionistic color, while the latter was given a reverentially slow treatment that put Lloyd's Memphis gospel roots on display. It was the perfect sound to leave ringing in the ears of the congregation as they exited, with memories of music that went beyond considerable technique into the realm of pure emotion.

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