Saturday, August 8, 2020

Charles Lloyd Kindred Spirits

The legendary saxophonist, composer, and jazz mystic Charles Lloyd celebrated his 80th birthday on March 15, 2018, at his hometown venue, Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre, with an unprecedented grouping of musical friends including guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland, with special guests organist Booker T. Jones and bassist Don Was joining the ensemble midway. His new album 8: Kindred Spirits (Live from The Lobero) documents both the sights and sounds of that extraordinary concert, and arrives in a deluxe boxset that includes 3-LPs, 2-CDs, and a DVD of the full performance, along with a 96-page hardcover book and 3 lithographs that commemorate the first 8 decades of Lloyd’s remarkable journey. The album also comes in standard LP/DVD, CD/DVD, and digital versions feauting the concert’s first set.

“Gerald was often back stage when I was touring with the New Quartet. In 2013 when Jason’s other duties became overwhelming, I decided to try out Gerald. His father and uncle are great musicians,” Lloyd says, referring to bassist John and saxophonist Jeff of the Clayton Brothers, “so he comes from something deep. You can hear it when he plays.”

Harland anchors every project that Lloyd pursues these days—Sangam, the Marvels, the New Quartet—and Rogers is present in every group but the bass-less Sangam. “Eric and Reuben put a magic carpet under me,” Lloyd exclaims, “and I can travel wherever I want to go. They want to be there, and they know that to be there they have to spread their wings in any situation. When we take that journey together; that’s communal living at its highest. Music is not for sleepwalking; it’s for wakefulness. Reuben and Eric understand. My music dances on a lot of shores, and they have the ability to be in the now with all of it.”

The Lobero set list docked at many of those shores. The evening began with the title track from Lloyd’s first album for Atlantic Records, 1966’s Dream Weaver. This infectious reverie begins with breathy exhalations and ends the same way 20 minutes later, but in between, Lloyd’s tenor saxophone attacks the theme with an increasingly edgy fearlessness.

“‘Dream Weaver’ is sacred ground to me,” Lloyd says. “That record was fresh and crazily beautiful. It has withstood the passage of the ages. I started playing it again and found new ways of expressing the truth. There are some notes on the saxophone I didn’t have as a young man. They aren’t on the horn; they’re in between the cracks. I’m not denying the young Charles, but as my character becomes whole, the music gets better.”

The Mexican folk song “La Llorona” from 2010’s Mirror (and 2016’s I Long To See You) opens with a piano solo that slowly builds from quiet to majestic and closes with a tenor solo that manages to always reference the melody as it’s sprinting through the octaves. That segues into “Part 5, Ruminations” from 2017’s Passin’ Thru, which begins with a meditative, free-floating consideration of the harmony before cohering into a more definite theme that inspires a stabbing guitar solo, a classically flavored piano solo, a rumbling drum solo and a low-register tenor saxophone solo.