Charles Lloyd: Tone Poem

Eric Gudas BY

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Charles Lloyd: Tone Poem
Charles Lloyd and The Marvels' April 2017 performance at UCLA's Royce Hall, with guest vocalist Lucinda Williams, was nothing but highlights—from Lloyd's dance moves across the stage as one or other of his bandmates soloed, to Williams' impassioned performances on such songs as Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" and Jimi Hendrix's "Angel." They also played a song by The Beach Boys. ("In My Room"). But the night really got going when the band played about fifteen minutes of Ornette Coleman material, shifting from a reverent version of "Peace" to an extended rendition of "Ramblin,'" the great rhythm-and-blues inflected song that Lloyd himself, in his short-lived mid-1960s quartet with Gabor Szabo, covered as "Goin' to Memphis," and which provided an occasion for Lloyd and his Marvels—Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, bassist Reuben Rogers on bass, and drummer Eric Harland—to rock the rafters in an auditorium where, with an equally packed house, Coleman himself performed in 2010. As it turns out, Lloyd and the Marvels were warming up for 2021's Tone Poem (Blue Note), which kicks off with "Peace" and a shorter, but no less incendiary, rendition of "Ramblin.'"

With the Marvels, Lloyd seems be circling back around the repertoire of his quartet with Szabo: on its first outing, I Long To See You (Blue Note, 2016) the former group played a sizzling version of "Of Course, Of Course," the title song of the Lloyd-Gabor unit's only album; while on Tone Poem, in addition to summoning "Ramblin'" / "Goin' to Memphis," Lloyd and company revisit Gabor's serpentine, restless composition, "Lady Gabor," which the two musicians first played near the end of their tenure in drummer Chico Hamilton's group and continued to perform live circa 1965, as documented on their recorded performances with Ron Carter and Pete La Roca, released as Charles Lloyd: Manhattan Stories (Resonance Records, 2014).

None of the Marvels—an ensemble of all-stars—is a stand-in for members of Lloyd's 1965 quartet; nevertheless, Frisell and Leisz, with their stringed instruments, provide a tangle of sound in and out of which Lloyd's flute weaves, hypnotically, while Rogers and Harland deepen the song's rhythmic mysteries. "Lady Gabor" is the "Dark Star" of '60s jazz, but it might be more accurate to call "Dark Star" the "Lady Gabor" of psychedelic rock—especially since Lloyd also played Gabor's opus with his better-known quartet of the late '60s in mainstream rock venues and pop music festivals. The version on Tone Poem is not a throwback, however, but a renewal for the twenty-first century. Although Lloyd solos memorably on "Lady Gabor," on the title song, and elsewhere on Tone Poem, the sound he and the Marvels achieve doesn't rely on any one individual's playing. Lloyd can rivet this listener's attention by simply— simply—playing a song's melody line, as he does on a rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Anthem." There's music for everyone on Tone Poem; and by "everyone" that doesn't mean jazz listeners only, but every human being.

Track Listing

Peace; Ramble; Anthem; Dismal Swamp; Tone Poem; Monk's Mood; Ay Amor (Live); Lady Gabor; Peace.


Charles Lloyd: saxophone; Bill Frisell: guitar, electric; Greg Leisz: guitar, steel; Eric Harland: drums; Rueben Rogers: bass.

Album information

Title: Tone Poem | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Blue Note Records



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