Charles Lloyd Quartet at Vicar Street

Ian Patterson By

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Charles Lloyd Quartet
Vicar Street
Dublin, Ireland
November 16, 2016

Two years after playing Dublin's National Concert Hall, NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd returned to the Irish capital and the more intimate surroundings of Vicar Street. Last time out Lloyd's New Quartet featured Gerald Clayton in lieu of Jason Moran, Joe Sanders in lieu of Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland. Here only Clayton remained, with the returning Rogers and Kendrick Scott rounding out the unit.

If there has been a changing of Lloyd's guard it's likely due to the increasingly busy schedules of Harland and Moran, the latter who was due to premier a piece of commissioned music at Jazztopad in Wroclaw the next night. In truth though, Lloyd has always been open to new collaborative paths, most recently with Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz on I Long to See You (Blue Note, 2016) and in a one-off (?) live performance with the Marcin Wasilewski Trio in Cracow. In Clayton and Scott, Lloyd has recruited two young, highly talented musicians who bring their own accents—and energy aplenty—to the quartet. Both nailed their colors to the mast from the get-go.

Two years previously the bulk of the set centred around the as-then unreleased suite Wild Man Dance (Blue Note, 2015)—another Jazztopad commission—but for this Vicar Street concert Lloyd was in more nostalgic mood, revisiting several pieces from Lloyd's early career, beginning with the set-opener "Dream Weaver," a John Coltrane-esque incantation that blossomed from the initial collective rumblings and the saxophonist's gently keening lyricism to a plateau of free-flowing animation. The leader and Clayton laid down impressive early markers buoyed by Rogers' groove and Scott's bristling attack, before the piece gradually petered out.

Lloyd was in expansive mood on the elegant, subtly bossa-infused "Dry Leaves," his billowing runs and fluttering embellishments paving the way for Clayton, whose patiently shaped two-handed dialog wove a bluesy trail that was beguiling yet unpredictable. Over the years Lloyd has often rendered tribute to Thelonious Monk, though the bebop-styled "Monk's Dance" was almost as evocative in spirit of Charlie Parker -an early and enduring influence on Lloyd. It was Roger's rhythmically playful bass solo, however, that perhaps came closest to Monk's world. Scott—a worthy successor to Harland and Billy Higgins before him—chipped in with a fiery extended solo before the quartet returned briefly to the head.

Lloyd, a consummate balladeer, dusted down "How Can I Tell You" from Discovery (Columbia, 1964), his burrowing cadenzas tempered by an aching lyricism not a million miles away from Lester Young's domain. Another track that's been in Lloyd's locker more than half century, "Tagore," saw him switch to flute, preceded by Clayton's rustlings and scratchings in the piano's innards. Over Scott's metronomic rhythm and Roger's seductive bass lines, Lloyd's measured, mellifluous tones contrasted with Clayton's ensuing splashing bravura, as the quartet's intensity ratcheted up a notch.

Tempo and intensity came and went in waves, as a powerful dramaturgy gradually took hold. "La Llorona"—first recorded on Mirror (ECM, 2010) and more recently on I Long to See You—morphed from lulling ballad to powerful blues lament, with an impassioned Clayton solo juxtaposed against Lloyd's more soulfully ornate improvisation -a highlight of the evening.

The encore began with Roger's unaccompanied bass solo, segueing into "Passin' Thru," a throwback to Lloyd's tenure in Chico Hamilton's outstanding band in the first half of the 1960s. Sunny, carnival-esque vibes framed freer collective terrain, throughout which an unerring rhythmic compass anchored the unit. Even when burning most fiercely, however, Lloyd's muse was melodically inspired—free-jazz with soul.

Silvio Rodriguez's gorgeous tune "Rabo de Nube" from his seminal album of the same name put a lyrical seal on the set, with Lloyd and Clayton's caressing interpretation paying finely crafted homage to the great Cuban singer-songwriter. A standing ovation greeted Lloyd's quartet as the final notes faded—a fitting response to such a heartfelt, uplifting performance.

Still seeking, still testing himself and those under his wings, Lloyd remains a master storyteller—a powerfully expressive conduit for centuries of American struggle and longing, love and faith.


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