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Charles Lloyd &The Marvels + Lucinda Williams: Vanished Gardens

Mark Sullivan By

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At age 80 legendary saxophonist/composer Charles Lloyd shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to his New Quartet—most recently documented on Passin' Thru (Blue Note Records, 2017)—he has collaborated with the Greek singer Maria Farantouri on Athens Concert (ECM, 2011); played duets with Quartet pianist Jason Moran on Hagar's Song (ECM, 2013); and produced a long-form suite commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, documented on Wild Man Dance (Blue Note Records, 2015).

Vanished Gardens marks the second recording of his guitar-oriented band The Marvels, following I Long to See You (Blue Note Records, 2016). The debut album employed a lot of traditional American songs (and modern "folk" tunes in the same tradition). This time the Americana aspect of the project is reinforced by the prominent contributions of singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams, who is featured on half of the ten tracks. Williams may not seem like an obvious choice, but she and Lloyd found a deep Southern connection; this collaboration was preceded by mutual live guest appearances (as well as performances by guitarist Bill Frisell and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz on Williams' recordings).

Lloyd's "Defiant" opens the set with a pensive, rubato tenor saxophone introduction (with commentary from both guitars), followed by a country-flavored Frisell guitar solo and a Leisz pedal steel solo. Williams' "Dust" sets the tone of the album, a stark vision of a world where the song's protagonist "Couldn't cry if you wanted to," because "even your thoughts are dust." After a frenzied climax, the song's theme is reflected in the gradual instrumental breakdown. The title tune begins with Frisell's patented looping, as he builds an ostinato pattern layer by layer. After the rhythm section establishes a groove, Lloyd's saxophone enters—quietly at first, then building to full cry, and finally concluding in duet with Eric Harland's drums. The band goes into standards territory with "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" from the musical The Nervous Set (written by Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman, who also wrote "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"). The first half is a showcase for Frisell's ballad playing, before Lloyd enters to rhapsodize for the rest.

The mood finally elevates with Williams' new song "We've Come Too Far To Turn Around," an inspiring Gospel-inspired tune which Lloyd opens with unaccompanied saxophone. He takes up the alto flute for "Blues for Langston and LaRue," a straight ahead blues—the swing feel is a refreshing contrast to the rest of the program. Williams' last original, "Unsuffer Me" makes its point vocally, then takes off for an extended band treatment. The album concludes with two smaller groupings. "Monk's Mood" is a duet between Lloyd and Frisell, and opens with an extended unaccompanied guitar introduction, with the guitarist giving the Thelonious Monk tune a kind of folk guitar treatment. Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" is a trio with vocals, guitar, and saxophone—Williams' weathered voice sounding a hopeful tone at the end.

This collaboration has all the hallmarks of a star-crossed event. Williams' singing and songwriting provide a focus for the entire album, inspiring the band and setting the tone for the instrumental tracks. Vanished Gardens should be a revelation to fans of both Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams.

Track Listing: Defiant; Dust; Vanished Gardens; Ventura; Ballad of the Sad Young Men; We've Come Too Far; Blues for Langston & Larue; Unsuffer Me; Monk's Mood; Angel.

Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone and flute; Bill Frisell: guitars; Greg Leisz: pedal steel guitar, dobro; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums; Lucinda Williams: vocals.

Title: Vanished Gardens | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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