The Charles Lloyd Quartet Live at the Highline Ballroom, NYC
“ ...Lloyd's voice spread a warmth all around the ballroom, opening things up even at the wildest times, and pulling the place together around his sound. ”
Charles Lloyd Quartet
New York, New York
July 3, 2009
Charles Lloyd hasn't lost a step. He has an instantly recognizable and deeply personal sound on every instrument in his formidable arsenal. His technique gets an audience feeling it. But perhaps his most underrated gift is the ability to be a catalyst for the players around him.
His 1960s quartet with Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett was one of jazz's most popular groups. Listening to his current rhythm section of Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums makes it abundantly clear that these musicians on their own can create wonderful music, and indeed they have. But having Lloyd at the helm makes special things happen. Whether due to his writing, his leadership, his joy at making music, or all of the aforementioned, everyone wins.
Eric Harland, Charles Lloyd, Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers
At 71, Lloyd is planning to tour less from his home on the West Coast. His show at New York's Highline Ballroom on July 3 promised to be his last performance of the year in the city, setting the stage for a special night of music. Appearing in a large but still intimate setting, before a packed and excited crowd, Lloyd came out on stage in his trademark black sunglasses and hat.
There was an air of easy grace and self-assurance as he picked up his tarogato and launched into "Ramanujan," off the quartet's 2008 album Rabo de Nube. The piece opened with a series of resonant long tones from the instrument, a Hungarian woodwind which here evoked the nasal, vaguely mystical sound of an Indian reed flute. Lit by entering bass and cymbals, these Eastern tones built up into high speed runs, riding the propulsive groove and Harland's drums. With Lloyd on point, the tune oscillated between Egyptian and funk meditations, building to a free and explosively volatile peak.
Then Moran came in. Giving a sign of good things to come, his hands started flying along the keys with a driving, tireless energy that seemed to loop back into the group, driving Harland's cymbals, bass and snare into an ecstasy of polyrhythmic intensity. At the end of the solo, Rogers kept a steady, simple-sounding groove going. The others hitched back onto the bass line as Lloyd came back and eased the song down with soft, moaning lines.
The tarogato was then set aside for the remainder of the concert, as the tenor sax took the fore. Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count" emphasized the lush, romantic melody with a beautiful altissimo sigh at the end. Rolling flourishes of piano gave way to beautiful exploratory sax balladry on par with Lloyd's early influence, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. This was deeply earnest playing, full of vocalizations that rose and fell on the beats of the rhythm section.
Next, the focus was on Moran and his solo piano, mining the established romantic aura, adding angular harmonies, and turning up the heat with a sharp, percussive touch. In answer, Harland rolled the cymbals with an almost pained expression, leading the others into new territory with rich crescendos of emotion from Moran and soulful pulls of arco bass from Rogers.
When Lloyd returned, he sent a shower of notes falling out of his horn like hot sparks, and lending the music a desperate quality. Harland cried and Moran trilled, urging the sax to testify more and more, even as individual notes began to break into cracking multiphonics. Preach he did, but never down to either the musicians or the crowd. Rather, his voice spread a warmth all around the ballroom, opening up new vistas during the wildest passages, yet bringing together all those congregated around the sound.
"Tone Poem" gave Harland the chance to stretch out around Lloyd. He played the drums loud and full, driving a storm of beats that gyred around the leader's sax trills. Lloyd rocked with the energy, as Harland's head snapped backward with each new blast. This was an explosive, cathartic duet that made the stage lights shiver, and evoked Lloyd's great duets with the late Billy Higgins.
When Moran and Rogers entered, there was an audible release of tension. The four engaged in an almost stream of consciousness sound painting. Moments of new, volcanic turmoil played against others of almost painful tenderness.
"Passin' Thru" set up a funky Caribbean groove, as sax and piano swapped and tweaked melody lines. This was some of the best playing from the rhythm section all night, as they stretched out the playful feeling to elastic proportions.