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Charles Lloyd: The Winds Of Grace

Ian Patterson By

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I give all I can each night because it could be the last night. I just leave it all out there every night no matter where I’m playing. —Charles Lloyd
At seventy nine years young Charles Lloyd is showing no signs of slowing down. The summer months see the Memphis saxophonist/flautist on the North American and European festival circuits with his quartet of Gerald Clayton, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland, followed by dates with The Marvels, Lloyd's most recent group, featuring Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz, Rogers and Harland.

The latter formation's baptism came with the acclaimed I Long to See You (Blue Note, 2016), and the good news is that another studio album from his latest ensemble is currently in the pipeline.

More immediate cause for celebration, however, is the release of Passin' Thru (Blue Note, 2017), a recording that captures Lloyd's New Quartet of Rogers, Harland and Jason Moran in its element at the 50th Montreux Jazz Festival in 2016, and at The Lensic in Santa Fe, New Mexico a month later.

Passin' Thru marks the tenth anniversary of Lloyd's New Quartet, which first came together in April 2007. The live album Rabo de Nube (2008)—named after Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez's tune—was a fine introductory calling card. That was followed by Mirror (2010) and Athens Concert (2011), the stunning collaboration with Greek singer Maria Farantouri, lyra player Socratis Sinopoulos and pianist Takis Fariz, recorded live at the Herodes Atticus Odeon—all on the ECM label.

Then, after a near twenty-five year association with Manfred Eicher's ECM label, Lloyd—not for the first time in his career—threw something of a curveball, by singing with Blue Note Records. It marked a return to the famous label for whom Lloyd had released one live album in the mid-1980s.

Lloyd's departure from ECM, with whom he'd recorded sixteen albums since 1989—a major legacy—was clearly a significant career decision and not one lightly taken. The details of the rupture are personal, though Lloyd states simply: "I have love and respect for Manfred, and I am sure he has love and respect for me..."

Lloyd's first release after resigning with Blue Note was the suite Wild Man Dance (Blue Note, 2015), described by Allmusic's Thom Jurek as "truly inspirational."

Jurkek's assessment was closer to the truth than he perhaps imagined. Wild Man Dance was the fruit of a commission by Jazztopad, the internationally renowned festival in Wroclaw, Poland. Festival director Piotr Turkiewicz had spent a couple of years serenading Lloyd and encouraging him to write completely new music especially for Jazztopad 2013.

Lloyd had over a year to compose the music, but inspiration is not something that can be switched on and off like a tap, as Lloyd explains: "I was working slow on that Wild Man Dance and then about three weeks before we left for Poland all this music just started abundantly pouring out of me. I'm hiking in the mountains, I'm swimming in the water and all this music starts flooding out. As we were even leaving I was still writing music and some of the movements didn't make it there."

A year and a half after the world premiere of Wild Man Dance at Jazztopad, and just a week after the album's Blue Note release, Lloyd received the National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master award, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to jazz since the mid-1950s.

Although the continual adulation of audiences world-wide throughout the years is arguably the greatest barometer of Lloyd's ongoing success, he is, nevertheless, grateful for the official recognition. "It's great," says Lloyd. "It's nice to be honoured and appreciated."

Other significant awards have come in what appears to be a golden period in Lloyd's career. In 2015, Berklee College of Music awarded Lloyd an honorary Doctorate. Of greater personal note, however, was when Lloyd returned to his hometown of Memphis in 2012 to receive a note on the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame. The corresponding concert that Lloyd gave was his first in his hometown of Memphis since 1964.

Lloyd's long aversion to playing in the town he grew up in had been the result of the racism he encountered belonging to a mixed-race family in the racially conflictive environment that prevailed in the Memphis of the 1930s and 1940s.

After the guts of half a century, to play Memphis again, where he cut his teeth playing with Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Johnny Ace and Bobby Blue Bland, has been a cathartic experience for Lloyd. "If a general conquers a thousand men a thousand times and one man conquers himself, who's the greater? I'm of that school," says Lloyd.

Lloyd is more expansive on the difficulties and prejudices of those times growing up in Memphis in Joseph Woodard's Lloyd biography A Wild, Blatant Truth (Silman-James Press, 2016). With touring and a new recording to promote, Lloyd, naturally enough, is keener to talk about his music.

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