2013 Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 2, 2013
June 29: Charles Lloyd Sangam / Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration
It was a night to celebrate, in more ways than one. When saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd released Sangam (ECM, 2006)a loose, improv-heavy live set in the unorthodox combination with master tablaist/percussionist Zakir Hussain and his regular quartet drummer Eric Harland, it was met with immediate critical acclaim. And why should it not? This was Lloyd, the spiritual seeker, paired with two others of a similar disposition, in a freewheeling context that couldand often didgo just about anywhere.
While there's not been a follow-up recordingsomething that, hopefully, Lloyd will remedy sometime soon, as there's been significant evolution in the ensuing yearsthe trio, now also named Sangam, continues to perform occasional shows most years and, as part of the saxophonist's By Invitation series at the Montréal Jazz Festival, it seemed like a logical choice. But the near-capacity crowd at Place des Arts' Théâtre Jean-Duceppe couldn't have predicted just how far-reaching this trio could beand, ultimately, was, in its near 90-minute set.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of how Sangam functions is that, with the exception of Hussain, who remained seated, cross-legged, on the riser that contained a wide variety of tablas and additional hand percussion, both Lloyd and, even more surprisingly, Harland were completely unencumbered by their traditional roles. As the set began, Lloyd started at the piano, playing an indigo melody on his own. Hussain gradually entered, first with a single chime that he struck and, moving from one microphone to the next, created a delicate stereo panning effect out in the house. Harland remained almost completely still, seeming to absorb the music around him until, a few minutes in, he picked up a small cymbal and walked over to the piano, to Lloyd's left, placing the cymbal on the strings and beginning to add a second set of hands to the 88 keys.
Lloyd slowly stood and, as he moved away from the piano, Harland took his seat and, with both hands now on the keyboard, began moving the music to an even darker place, even as Hussain, by now on tabla, turned increasingly busy as Lloyd moved to the drum kit to begin adding his own series of punctuations and spare grooves to those from Hussain. Drone-based, Hussain also began to sing a gentle, plaintive melody as Lloyd left the drumsbut not before, standing in front of them, he added a few extra splashes on the cymbalspicking up his flute and beginning to engage with Hussain on a thematic level, contributing simple, flowing lines which the percussionist would, at times, mirror in unison, other times in consonant harmony. With Harland moving back to his kitthe changes in instrumentation almost like sleight-of-hand, since attention was drawn continually to the different musicians, only to find the last one to which attention had been paid had now moved to another instrumentperhaps the most surprising aspect to the piece was how the three suddenly came to a complete and definitive close. This may be music made in-the-moment, but clearly by three players with eyes and ears wide open.
It was that kind of open-mindedness that made the first hour of the setsadly, having to leave to dash to Théâtre Maisonneuve, just around the corner (and still in Place des Arts) for the three-group Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebrationso eminently compelling. It didn't really matter what instrument each of the musicians was playing, the collective whole became continuously greater than the sum of its parts. There were times when the music became more percussion-focused, with Harland responding to Hussain's tabla (the Indian percussionist's fingers moving, at times, so fast as to be a blur as he layered complex rhythmic lines that Harland turned polyrhythmic with his own injections) in consonance, other times in call-and-response, all the while Lloyd delivering strong, occasionally deeply blues-drenched lines on either tenor saxophone or taragato, with Hussain, once again occasionally adding his own vocal harmonies.