Spotlight on Charles Lloyd: Sufi, Seeker, and Jazz Titan

Veteran saxophonist/flutist/composer Charles Lloyd is a jazz master who has produced an extensive and varied discography since the early 1960’s. The mellow sound of his gold-plated Conn Constellation tenor saxophone is instantly recognizable and distinctively his. But Lloyd’s music goes way beyond jazz. His career has been a musical journey through many styles—from blues, hard bop, and bebop, to avant garde, African, Indian, and world music—including the Hungarian wooden horn, the tarógató.  His music is also often spiced with a dollop of good old Memphis soul (where he was born). Over the decades, he’s introduced a number of great pianists to jazz fans, including Keith Jarrett, Michel Petrucciani, Bobo Stenson, Geri Allen, and Jason Moran. Lately, he’s worked with guitarist Bill Frisell and performed live with Lucinda Williams.

Lloyd has long practiced Eastern religions and philosophy. He cites a quotation from the ancient Hindu holy texts the Upanishads in the booklet of his new Blue Note CD, Passin’ Thru. I once mailed him a CD by Pakistani qawwali sufi singer Abida Parveen. The music was a tribute to her guru, Baba Bulleh Shah, and it was powerful exhortatory music. I knew Lloyd would be into it.

The new album Passin’ Thru is one of his best yet, and this one falls squarely into the jazz arena. The fantastic album features Lloyd’s New Quartet members pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland. A powerhouse of sound, the new album was recorded live in Switzerland and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and captures the spirit and energy of the live performances. Today’s playlist features a couple of tracks from the new album along with many of my favorite Lloyd recordings since the 1960’s.

  1. Dream Weaver (Live)” from the album Passin’ Thru, Charles Lloyd New Quartet. A new version of a Lloyd classic from the latest Blue Note album, recorded at the Montreux Festival June 2016. You can hear how the band thrills the Swiss crowd at that great summer music festival. Passin’ Thru takes its name from the New Amazing Chico Hamilton Quintet album that Lloyd played on in the 1960’s.
  2. Nu Blues (Live)” from the album Passin’ Thru, Charles Lloyd New Quartet. A great 12-bar blues that showcases the energy and dynamism of Lloyd’s group, a band that is telepathic and tight.

    The Charles Lloyd New Quartet (Photo by D. Darr courtesy of Blue Note)
  3. Sombrero Sam” from the album Dreamweaver – The Charles Lloyd Anthology – The Atlantic Years 1966-1969, Charles Lloyd Quartet. A catchy hit song from an early Atlantic album, featuring Lloyd on flute.
  4. Forest Flower – Sunrise” from the album Dreamweaver – The Charles Lloyd Anthology – The Atlantic Years 1966-1969, Charles Lloyd Quartet. A huge hit for Charles Lloyd, this song was recorded at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966. “Forest Flower—Sunrise” and the sequel “Forest Flower—Sunset” put a young pianist named Keith Jarrett on the map. Other members of the quartet included Cecil McBee on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

  

  1. Forest Flower – Sunset” from the album Dreamweaver – The Charles Lloyd Anthology – The Atlantic Years 1966-1969, Charles Lloyd Quartet. Part two of this timeless suite.
  2. Song of Her” from the album Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey, Charles Lloyd Quartet. A lovely ballad written by bassist Cecil McBee.
  3. “Lady Gabor” from the album Passin’ Thru, The New Amazing Chico Hamilton Quintet. A powerful track written by Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, who was part of drummer Chico Hamilton’s new group. The quintet also included George Bohannon on trombone, Albert Stinson on bass, Charles Lloyd, and Chico Hamilton on drums. Charles Lloyd plays flute on this loping waltz, always a favorite of mine.
  4. “El Toro” from the album Passin’ Thru, The New Amazing Chico Hamilton Quintet. Another great track from the classic album, which is still available on the original Impulse! vinyl from discogs.com. In 1960, Lloyd became musical director of Chico Hamilton’s quintet, replacing Eric Dolphy, who left for New York with Charles Mingus’ band. Lloyd recorded three superb albums for the Impulse label.
  5. Tribal Dance (Live)” from the album Love-In, Charles Lloyd Quartet. Recorded in 1967 during the Summer of Love in the hippie temple, The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, this album features the quartet in full psychedelic glory. After a number of successful albums for Atlantic, including this Love-In album, Lloyd left the scene, kind of disappearing. He was drawn back into the jazz arena by a young gifted French pianist, Michel Petrucciani. Lloyd told me “he came down from the mountain” because of the diminutive Petrucciani.
  6. You Are So Beautiful” from the album Lift Every Voice, Charles Lloyd. The classic love song ballad is beautifully rendered on this ECM album.

  

  1. Forever Dance” from the album Which Way Is East, Charles Lloyd and Billy Higgins. Lloyd moved west in 1956 to study classical music at USC, but nights were spent in clubs with young lions like Ornette Coleman, Gary Peacock, Charlie Haden, and other leading west coast jazz musicians. It was during these sessions that Lloyd met drummer Billy Higgins, with whom he formed a devoted lifelong friendship. This duet album was recorded shortly before Higgins’ death.
  2. Blood Count” from the album Lift Every Voice, Charles Lloyd. The great Billy Strayhorn, musical partner of Duke Ellington, wrote this song while recovering in the hospital. Hence the title.
  3. Rabo De Nube” from the album Lift Every Voice, Charles Lloyd. This song comes from Cuban Nuevo canción master and poet engagé Silvio Rodriguez.
  4. Ruby, My Dear” from the album Mirror, Charles Lloyd Quartet. Charles Lloyd loves Thelonious Monk and his music, and covers this Monk ballad on this 2010 ECM album.

Banner image above of Charles Lloyd by D. Darr, courtesy of Blue Note.