2013 Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 2, 2013
Two very different saxophone-led quartets opened the 2013 festival's series of shows at Place des Arts' Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. First, at 19:00, Charles Lloyd delivered the opening show of his three-night By Invitation series run with his quartet of the past seven years, first heard on 2007's Rabo de Nube (ECM, 2007), followed by Ravi Coltrane at 21:30, bringing a completely different group than that heard on his most recent recording, Spirit Fiction (Blue Note, 2012).
Lloyd's career, since first recording hooking up with ECM Records on 1990's Fish Out of Waterhis first five quartet dates, all with Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, recently documented on his Old & New Masters Editions box, Quartets (2013)seems to have been on a relentlessly upward trajectory with no end in sight. From special projects, like his home-recorded duo set with Billy Higgins, Which Way is East (2004) (recorded just a few short months before the drummer/multi-instrumentalist passed away), to collaborations with everyone from guitarist John Abercrombie and bassist Dave Holland to pianist Brad Mehldau and Greek singer Maria Farantouri, Lloyd's output for the label has been exceptional in both its consistency and its ongoing series of surprises. When the saxophonist put together his current quartet, with pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, who knew that it would ultimately become his most impressive quartet everand that's no mean feat, given his superlative quartets with Stenson and, of course, the group that started it all, his 1960s quartet with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette that made Lloyd the closest thing jazz had to a true pop star at the time, with Atlantic Records releases like 1966's Dream Weaver and 1967's Forest Flower (both on Atlantic).
That Lloyd's current quartet has evolved into his strongest yet was supported by its stellar Montréal Jazz Festival performance. This was a group so completely in-tune with each other that its members effortlessly moved around within the broader skeletal context of the compositions, reinventing them each and every night. With a group of relatively young players (Rogers and Moran the elders at 38; Harland the youngster at 36), Lloyd has a quartet that, nevertheless, has such broad experience and encyclopedic knowledge of the traditionand that includes Lloyd's own contributions to that traditionthat it can effortlessly move from free-flowing rubato tone poems to fervently swinging bluessometimes in the same song.
Lloyd opened the set with his taragatothe nasally, single-reeded Hungarian wind instrumentbut also devoted plenty of time to his main axe, the tenor saxophone, even pulling out his flute for one piece. Many of the songs in Lloyd's 90-minute set began with Lloyd alone, motivically driven to find a way into the music for the rest of his group, but always focused on the music and not his inimitable virtuosity. On tenor, his control over multiphonicsoccasionally injecting the slightest harmonic overtonewas in some ways more remarkable than those who are more extreme in their use of such extended techniquesagain, always in service of the music.
That's not to say that he didn't impress with the kind of cascading flurries that were something of a signature, or the seeming non sequiturs that were just like Lloyd when he's speaking, an artist with such a rich legacy that he can instantly shuffle from high school with Booker Little to playing with Bobo Stenson. In performance, Lloyd may move from one musical thought to another in the space of a nanosecond, but it would suddenly become crystal clear that, as distanced as they might have seemed on the surface, the connection between them was ultimately revealed ...just not so overtly as to be immediately obvious.
Moran has evolved into the perfect foil for Lloyd; ever-thoughtful, he could oftentimes be seen hovering over the keys, waiting for the right moment to inject just the right chord to either support where the group was going or suggest a new destination. Sometimes it was a single chord, held onto almost interminably untilas Rogers and Harland simultaneously (and magically) picked up on the same signalthe three players would break the tension by resolving into a visceral groove or dissolving into rubato free play.