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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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Only the mid-set "Defiant" was a brand new and as-yet unrecorded Lloyd composition. And, just as the Jensen sisters' show immediately prior was dedicated to Geri Allen so, too, did Lloyd dedicate his set to the passing of an artist who may not have been as big a name amongst the larger jazz audience...but amongst musicians she was clearly well-known, well-respected...and well-loved. Of course, Allen also recorded and toured with Lloyd, appearing in his quartet with Rogers and Harland on Jumping the Creek (ECM, 2005) and participating in a particularly strong performance with the saxophonist at the 2007 PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, Oregon. And so, Lloyd's connection with Allen was a personal one.

As for "Defiant," the third tune of the set, when the piece was over, Lloyd stepped up to the microphone, saying "I normally don't like to speak between songs but that was a recent composition I wrote, inspired—if that's the right word—by the US condition." Someone in the audience immediately yelled out "Move up here!," to which Lloyd responded, "It's nice to be welcome somewhere." The deeper significance of that response was not lost on Lloyd's fans.

If the amount of evergreen material in Lloyd's set suggests any kind of retro vibe, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Lloyd and his quartet literally reinvented everything...as, no doubt, they do each and every night on the band stand. Quite possibly the freest, most explorative set ever seen with Lloyd—and over the past several years there have been many—it wasn't quite as outside as the music heard on Passin' Thru; Clayton was undeniably a fine addition to the group, with great ears and an ability to move from tender lyricism to more jagged angularity, but he's not quite the encyclopedic pianist Moran is.

Still, the chemistry amongst this version of Loyd's quartet was nothing if not deep...if for no other reason than Harland being involved in multiple projects with the saxophonist beginning with Jumping the Creek, but also in Lloyd's exceptional East-meets-West trio with tabla master Zakir Hussain documented on Sangam (ECM, 2006) but a trio Montréal fans were able to experience during Lloyd's 2013 By Invitation series.

Rogers has been associated with the saxophonist in the Moran/Harland constellation since its inception, first heard on the 2007 debut Rabo de Nube (ECM), and so also has plenty of history—and chemistry—together with Lloyd and Harland. If the complexion of this quartet with Clayton rather than Moran was, by definition, a different one, it was certainly no less compelling, as the entire group played like a single organism, flowing like a living, breathing entity. Clayton may not possess the chemistry intrinsic to Lloyd, Rogers and Harland's longer-standing musical relationship, but he was still plenty well connected to the rest of his bandmates.

Everyone was impressive, with plenty of individual moments to shine in the spotlight, but as irrepressibly intuitive and masterful as Harland's playing was, as equally empathic as Rogers was, possessed of a gorgeous tone and ability to intuit the perfect choices for every moment, and as compelling and, at times, breathtaking as Clayton was in filling some very big shoes left by Moran, it wasn't just that Lloyd's name topped the marquee; he's rarely, in the numerous performances heard over the past decade, sounded this fine...or this free.

Rather than bringing numerous horns, such as the alto saxophone and taragato, as he has in past performances, Lloyd relied solely on tenor saxophone for most of the set, barring the new, often (but not consistently) backbeat-driven "Tagore on the Delta," where he picked up a previously (seemingly) hidden alto flute, that longer, warmer cousin of the concert flute. Not dissimilar to the softer tone he's evolved on tenor saxophone—just one of the many contrasts to the drier, sharper-toned John Coltrane, to whom Lloyd is all too often and unfairly compared—Lloyd's tone on flute was like a soft cushion.

But focusing, as he largely was, on tenor saxophone, Lloyd built solo after solo throughout the set, often predicated on rapidly ascending and cascading phrases—though that, in and of itself, was too simple a description—his left and right shoulders alternatively rising and falling as his body moved in perfect synchronicity with the music.

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