CD Reviews: Charles Lloyd - Quartets and Hagar's Song



Charles Lloyd - Quartets
ECM 372 9512


Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran - Hagar’s Song
ECM 372 4550
(CD Reviews by Chris Parker)


The 1989 return of saxophonist/flautist/composer Charles Lloyd to regular recording and touring, after nearly twenty years’ absence from the jazz scene (give or take a shortish collaboration with Michel Petruccciani in the early 1980s), was particularly welcome not only because it restored to the music one of its most immediately recognisable and affecting saxophone tones, but also because it emphasised, courtesy of Lloyd’s choice of (mainly) European partners such as pianist Bobo Stenson (featured on all five albums anthologised in this box), bassists Palle Danielsson and Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Christensen (replaced initially by Ralph Peterson and subsequently by Billy Hart), the fact that the music’s centre of gravity had shifted eastward in the intervening years.

Like Keith Jarrett (an early sideman of his) before him, Lloyd clearly recognised the power, eloquence, freedom and grace characteristic of Scandinavian jazz musicians of the period, and swiftly established himself in what has since become a natural home on ECM, describing his initial exposure to the sound captured in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio as a ‘blessing ... transparent. You could hear everything, wherever you turned, individuals but also the ensemble.’

These five albums, Fish Out of Water, Notes from Big Sur, All My Relations, The Call and Canto, recorded between July 1989 and December 1996, form an astonishingly consistent sequence, all perfectly showcasing Lloyd’s unique sound, a rapturous but surprisingly robust warble, touching, expressive, utterly individual yet immediately accessible, and they are also archetypal ECM productions, Stenson in particular embodying all the label’s trademark strengths: sensitivity, musical intelligence and wit, lyricism and freedom of spirit.

Hagar’s Song documents Lloyd’s bond with his current pianist, Jason Moran, and celebrates the saxophonist’s 75th birthday by drawing its material from composers who have touched his life – Ellington and Strayhorn (‘Mood Indigo’ and ‘Pretty Girl’ respectively), Gershwin (‘Bess, You is My Woman Now’), Earl Hines (‘Rosetta’) – plus a couple of songs connected with favourite singers, Chris Connor and Billie Holiday, but its centrepiece is even more personal: a suite of originals dedicated to Lloyd’s great-great-grandmother, torn from her parents at ten and impregnated four years later by a slaveowner who subsequently sold her to his son. These five pieces are suitably sombre and less regular in tempo than the rest of the album, Lloyd’s tenor in particular (he also plays flute and alto) bringing a mournful, occasionally rasping urgent earnestness to the music, so that the florid playfulness of the following track, ‘Rosetta’, on which Moran is particularly spirited, is especially welcome.

Concluding with touching but cogent visits to two rock songs with which Lloyd has a personal connection, Brian Wilson’s ‘God Only Knows’ (he played on Pet Sounds) and Dylan’s ‘I Shall be Released’ (he used to visit the Band and Dylan in Woodstock and was a friend of the late Levon Helm), this is a deeply felt and moving album from a truly great jazz figure who shows no sign whatever of allowing his music to lose any of its intensity, deep into his eighth decade as he is.

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