Some artists tower so high above their peers and successors that their influence is inexorable. Examples from the last century are James Joyce upon literary novelists, Stephen Sondheim upon musical theatre writers and John Coltrane upon jazz saxophonists.
Now 70, Charles Lloyd fell under the Coltrane spell at a formative age, and has never shaken the impact. Perhaps frustration with this partly accounts for two long retirement periods in the 1970s and '80s, the first coming after finding such phenomenal popularity in the '60s that he helped open both the Iron Curtain countries and rock audiences to jazz. When, 20 years ago, Lloyd returned to regular touring and recording it was as though he'd been reborn. The Coltrane influence lingered, but he was now at ease with it.
He knew he had his own, very personal contribution to make, extending the Coltrane legacy, just as Beckett extended Joyce's and no doubt someone will Sondheim's. This album presents yet another evolution of Lloyd's quartet. Eric Harland, perhaps the finest drummer of his generation, remains, while pianist Jason Moran replaces Geri Allen, and bassist Reuben Rogers (who recently stunned Sound Lounge audiences with Aaron Goldberg) replaces Robert Hurst.
Whether it's the new line-up or this being a live recording, the exhilaration stakes have been raised, helping continue a trend of nearly every Lloyd album for two decades being stronger than its predecessor.
These CDs are classics of their era. As proved on his own recordings, Moran is one of the most rhythmically lively and sophisticated pianists around, and that added layer of drive is ideal behind a leader inclined to dream. By dream I certainly don't mean "meander": Lloyd's solos are focused, immediate and enthralling, but they often float into a celestial zone above the mortality of rhythm. He can, however, still dig into the groove and hurtle forward rather than levitate, as happens on the rapid , which contains spellbinding solo features from both Rogers and Harland.
The first minute of the opening is a little metaphor for how the band works: Lloyd plays skittering, premonitory tenor phrases against a little voodoo percussion for Harland, and then - Blam! - the band lands on a chord with brutal force, and Lloyd is off and riding this ferociously energised beast that runs on the four limbs of Eric Harland. For both deftness and excitement Harland has few equals. Reunited with his old chum Rogers he sounds entirely at ease skippering the ship of a master nearly two-and-a-half times his age. Moran makes it a rhythm section of fizzing effervescence, while also being able to retreat to a subdued colouring of the more meditative moods, when Lloyd plays flute or the braying, clarinet-like tarogato rather than that magnificent, sprawling tenor, now woodier in sound than Coltrane's.
To quote from a Charles Sumic poem accompanying the disc, "Without this music,/Life would be a mistake."
John Shand SMH
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