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Published: 2008/07/27
by Dan Alford

Charles Lloyd Quartet, New York Society for Ethical Culture, NYC- 6/28

When tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd walked on stage at Ethical Culture’s performance space, he was joined not only by his current band, featuring long time cohort Eric Harland, Brooklyn’s own pianist iconoclast Jason Moran, and busy bassist Rueben Rogers, who’s been making a name form himself by working with the likes of Joshua Redman, but also by poet Charles Simic. The writer began by reading a few late-night pieces evoking the darkened hovels and hideaways of New York, making reference to authors, artists and jazz greats (Lloyd included) along the way. Good tone setting pieces, the reading did not have the scorching quality of Amiri Baraka’s collaboration with the Christian McBride Band, also on the Upper West Side, back in December but perhaps that’s not a fair comparison. In fact, it would be Lloyd himself who would take on the role of spoken wordsmith this night, as he paused every now and then between songs to sidle up to the microphone, tilt his head, and, wringing or holding his long lanky hands at the end of his long lanky arms, unleash a deluge of words to create strange memory stories that often turned on a single word or the head of a pin to make connections between time and place, stories about being invited to play at Monk’s home as a young man and passing up the chance or Michel Petrucciani or just the impact of a moment. Here is a man whose art extends far beyond his horn, seems to swirl all around him.

As Simic began the last couple poems, these written specifically for Lloyd, Rogers worked out a slow bass line and Harland started to move with shakers and tap around his drum kit, playing rims and stands rather than heads and cymbals. Lloyd joined in on tenor, his sound so wonderfully classic, the sound of misty, rain drenched city streets and lamppost lights of yellow and white caught in streaky puddles with splashes of fractured neon signs. Sounds like New York, sure, but like an older New York that probably never really was, or like Parisian walks. Moran, meanwhile, was toying lazily at the side of the stage on his candy apple red Steinway, and then suddenly was frantic, jabbing at a single key so very fast and hard with the pinky of his left hand. He’s a different type of player, a different type of presence, seemingly in his own world where multiple tempos exist simultaneously, and musical ideas pass by before they come fully into view. Unfortunately his piano was poorly mic-ed or low in the mix, so that throughout the night he would stand out through quiet interludes and solos, but become lost in the fray of crazier passages. As others soloed on “Requiem”, Lloyd prowled around the stage in his tall, skinny grey suit, his round little head covered in dark shades and capped with a tiny hat. The music grew so dramatic, Lloyd rocking up and down as he led the quartet or responded to Harland’s wild, deceptively loose rhythms. As the drummer began to roar, Rogers solidified, sawing steadily with the bow and breathing deeply.

A story about Booker Little, the kindness of strangers and young musicians introduced “Booker’s Garden.” Lloyd was all alone, playing sweet on the flute, his band mates listening with eyes downcast or closed. Rogers began to feel his way into the moment, rising up then to dominate, growing funky. When Moran and Harland crashed into the groove, Lloyd gave a little yelp, hopped up from his bench and the ensemble began to fly. Harland started to pull the passage apart, deconstructing the form in stages, and Moran reacted with a pronounced lead, oddly spaced notes keeping everyone’s ears alert. The rhythm section was dancing, just dancing around the center, spinning off in this direction or that, but always, always nailing the one. The movement returned to Rogers for another great solo. He worked his way into the core of his idea, his hands likewise moving toward to the middle of his bass, and his body was all bunched up as his fingers seemed to tangle with each other at the very end. All the while, Lloyd was behind the kit, shaking and shuffling.

The first encore, “Rabo de Nube,” the title track off the group’s new live album recorded in 2007, began with fluid rant about Cuban drumming, the enticing crookedness of streets downtown, playing the Blue Note in the fall of 2001 and a grumbly Coleman Hawkins drinking scotch at the back of The Village Vanguard- the quietness of wise men. The second encore, however, was like an entirely separate concert. Lloyd’s other recent unit, Sangam, is a free form, world music tinged jazz trio that includes Harland and master tabla player/rhythmist Zakir Hussain, and that was the source of this music. Harland was playing a fat, Indian style polyrhythm with shakers and bells on the heads of his drums. Lloyd came in on soprano sax sounding like a shehnai, a massive driving force behind the storm front that erupted on stage. Moran was pounding on his piano, and Lloyd now had maracas in his hands as he flailed and danced above Harland’s kit, the drummer’s steady kick holding it all together. There was a guy one row up who was holding head, hunching over, glancing up and twisting his face, holding his breath, and blowing out big sighs, overwhelmed by what was happening on stage. The other instruments fell away, leaving Harland to a long, flashy, masterful solo that eventually quieted to bells. Moran and Lloyd were both at the piano now, and Harland was groaning lightly when Lloyd pulled up the mic and began to recite a long passage from the Bhagavad Gita, racing through lines and lists, but pausing too, emphasizing words and phrases of summation as he seemed to sprawl out across the piano’s right side. Rogers, meanwhile was tipping back, playing his bass almost like a guitar, and then bowing low as the recitation closed. While the music rose up to punctuate the poetry, Lloyd stood, took apart his soprano and placed the pieces on his padded bench before picking up his tenor again. Then it all welled up, music as big as the night- gorgeous.

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