2018 and 2019 have seen more than one release of newly discovered material by jazz icons which have been hyped as masterpieces by the record label, but proven to be underwhelming on investigation, no more than marginally interesting artefacts for anyone other than completists and the star-struck. The John Coltrane albums Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Impulse, 2018) and Blue World (Impulse, 2019) are cases in point.
With the Charles Lloyd Quartet's 2CD Montreux Jazz Festival 1967, however, we have the real deal, a landmark set which more than lives up to expectations. It was recorded a year or so after the quartet's breakthrough albums Dream Weaver (Atlantic, 1966) and Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey (Atlantic, 1966), and not long after Ron McClure had replaced the group's original bassist, Cecil McBee. McClure joined Lloyd and two young lions, pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette, both playing here as though their lives depend on it. The album is taken from two performances the band gave at Montreux on June 18, 1967, one in the afternoon, the other in the evening. Both were recorded for broadcast by Swiss Radio with impeccable audio, which digital remastering has enhanced.
What counts most, of course, is the music itself. It is superb. Montreux Jazz Festival 1967 is a near masterpiece. It captures Lloyd's quartet at its creative peak, still relishing playing together and still breaking new ground. By late 1968, after a year playing to uncritical US rock audiences who were too stoned to care what was going on musically, the group had stopped caring much, too. In 1969, riven by ill-feeling over the perceived imbalance between the top-dollar fees Lloyd's agent was charging promoters and the salaries Lloyd was paying his musicians, the quartet disintegrated. Jarrett was particularly bitter about the way he felt he had been treated.
But all was still sunny in June 1967. Every track here is a winner and the absolute crème de la crème, appropriately, is the closer, a 27-minute version of the quartet's signature hit, Lloyd's "Forest Flower." Ten minutes longer than the outstanding performance given at Monterey in 1966, it soars even higher. The 17-minute second section, aka "Forest Flower: Sunset" (following the introductory first section's "Forest Flower: Sunrise"), is a steaming, passionate, gospel-meets-township-jazz, collective jam which is distinguished by DeJohnette and Jarrett, yet to be smitten by his infuriating habit of vocalising along to himself, as much as it is by Lloyd (on saxophone). It deserves to be retitled "Forest Flower: Sunburst." Sheer magic.
CD1: Days And Nights Waiting; Lady Gabor; Sweet Georgia Bright. CD2: Love Ship; Love Song To A Baby; Forest Flower.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.