Hyperion With Higgins – Charles Lloyd
ECM 1784 440 014 000-2
Over the last ten years, the term jazz has become insipid, acquiring hyphens
and diffuse nouns to describe the different (and new?) subgenres. Most of
the classifications have occurred during a recent surge in the jamband
scene, which does have merits (such as introducing the undemanding audience
to modernity's more convoluted improvisational modus). However, a problem
arises with the arrival of Charles Lloyd's Hyperion with Higgins.
Play this for someone and, upon first listen, the terms "old" or "dated"
might be the vapid adjectives chosen.
Given the myriad of tastes, maybe the individual has a point: the music does
sound antiquated next to Charlie Hunter or Medeski Martin and Wood, possibly
sleepy. Lloyd, backed by Brad Mehldau, the late Billy Higgins, Larry
Grenadier and John Abercrombie don't make jazz in the current fad filled
dominion of jazz. One can examine the career of the wildly successful John
Scofield as representative of the now arising schism. Teamed with a group of
beat heavy players, meandering through funk changes as on Uberjam, he
piques the attention of the jamband world. In contrast, when he assembled a
group of jazz music's finest on Works For Me, he lacked the ability
to move fluidly in an acumen based, mental discourse. As a result, listeners
simply returned to their copies of A Go-Go and The Dropper.
Lloyd's quintet succeeds in the peculiar vein that Scofield lacked the
panache to achieve. The collective does not improvise on a set of changes,
but instead intellectualizes the musical structure to maximize melodic
sensibilities. As a result, the music deserves the term chamber music,
defined by Chamber Music America as: "music written for small ensembles,
whose members generally perform one to a part without a conductor. At the
heart of chamber music lies the spirit of collaboration and the role of the
individual performer. Chamber music places the highest order of
responsibility upon the individual to engage in a close musical dialogue
with the other performers in the ensemble without the aid of a conductor. As
a collaborative expression, chamber music relies upon the collective musical
instincts, experience, knowledge, and talents of its participants to guide
the process of interpreting, rehearsing, and performing a composer's
The majority of acoustic jazz might fit into this description, where the
players converse rather than groove; who conceptualize rather than
hyperbolize. In the definition, terms such as "collaborative expression" and
"musical instincts" highlight the methods which, at one time, were cherished
components of jazz. Groups often used their musical instincts to consider
ideas and thoughts amongst each other; to consider problems with the world
in a musical framework. A past example: Lee Morgan's Search for the New
Land explores how social problems can be contemplated and analyzed via
music, as a lone trumpet discusses inequity with guitar, drums, piano and
bass. Yet even though a collective idea arises, chamber music accentuates
the performer and her voice, of her "experience, knowledge, and talents" to
maximize the democratic, idealistic conversation within the group.
In the 1950s, a movement in jazz, coined "third wave" – exemplified in the
work of the Modern Jazz Quartet and Jim Guiffres Three – attempted to
conflate such classical concepts with jazz improvisations. Even such a
synthesis does not necessitate critical exegesis, as other artists, such as
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie often discussed classical music. In
particular, Parker supposedly loved Bach and Beethoven, often studying every
musical work recorded. The connections between jazz and classical music,
therefore, have always existed.
Similarly, Hyperion with Higgins contains enough musical depth to
make the definition valid. The separate parts, where the hushed
conversations between the quintet occur, equates with most string quartets.
When Charles Lloyd takes a minor lead in "Secret Life of the Forbidden City"
the other players are respond but do not reiterate. Mehldau and Abercrombie
are gently replying to Lloyd and then to each other's permutations.
Somewhere in the background, Grenadier appears to offer the voice of
solidarity and reason, often digesting the others' ideas into a solid
conclusion. Of course, like any writer or thinker, his conclusion exists as
a manifestation of his opinions. Lastly, Higgins shuffles and fills with a
tom and snare, at times offering the listener the visual context of the
conversation, or accentuating the other players' emphatic responses.
Rapturously, he ventures on his own at certain times, offering insightful
commentary considering his reticence.
As the music continues on Hyperion with Higgins, each artist responds
to the players comment and then iterates his personal ideology. Rather than
Lloyd mentioning "water" and receiving the term "water" in return, his
surrounding cadre begin to describe the water's attributes. In this way,
Hyperion with Higgins might be one of the most inspiring albums
released in recent memory. Between the simple modal concepts, the listener
can locate an album replete with harmonic dialogues and, significantly, the
last spoken musical thoughts of Billy Higgins, much like renowned string
quartet compositions. What the quintet has decided to discuss either
socially, spiritually or both, remains the listener's domain.