Far be it from me to cast a shadow on Vanished Gardens
, Charles Lloyd
's 80th birthday release. With a career spanning my point of conception to now, as I try to make sense of it all, is my two cents really necessary? So "Defiant" starts out as an extended shadowy and supple Lloyd solo as the Marvels: Bill Frisell
, guitar; Greg Leisz
on pedal steel, Reuben Rogers
on bass, and Eric Harland
sitting in on the drums slip into a Twin Peak-sian casual country shuffle that dreamily lulls you into Lucinda Williams
haunted and grimly expressive reading of her father's poem "Dust," with Willaims driving into our consciousness that "Even your thoughts are dust." And here the album enters a dark, dark zone where the pendulum swings hard in either directiondefiance or resignationwith the Marvels serving both equally, grooving as the turns go, finding neutral ground in the sheer mortality of it all.
"Vanished Gardens" follows with a riveting, improvised, atmospheric bramble led by Frisell, who trades off telepathically with Lloyd, for a nine minute swirl of swells and swales. From William' soul baring 2003 album World Without Tears
(Lost Highway) comes "Ventura," varying little from the original, save for Lloyd's soulful calligraphy. Like a cloud, "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" quietly floats by, a contemplative guitar-led/sax mist that Leisz and Harland especially respond to with a delicate silence. Lloyd solemnly intros "We've Come Too Far," a new gospel infused original from Williams that offers some hope that the sun will shine when the record's over.
As if sensing the need to let what remains of the fading daylight in, Frisell and Lloyd, this time on his flute, skip and meander to the barely-there-beat of "Blues For Langston and LaRue." It's the second to the shortest track, so you catch your breath where you can, because on its playful heels comes another shot of Williams desperation, a lanky, hallucinatory 4/4 march of her stand-out '07 classic "Unsuffer Me." "Come into my world/Of loneliness/And wickedness/And bitterness/Unlock my love . . ." The band expands and contracts the world around the woman and her battered heart. And though the music is vast and open, it feels claustrophobic. Harrowing stuff.
Lloyd and Frisell then take a break from it all with "Monk's Mood," a quiet nod to the great jazz jokester. The album closes with Lucinda, sans her grim reaper ropes, on Jimi Hendrix' eternally hopeful "Angel," the band lilting warm and dusky behind her, assuring that behind all the darkness, of life, of relationships, of politics, there is a light. And we will see it shine.
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.
Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone and flute; Bill Frisell: guitars; Greg Leisz: pedal steel guitar, dobro; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums; Lucinda Williams: vocals.