REVIEW: Charles Lloyd: Wild Man Suite + Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas: Sound Prints at the Barbican (2014 EFG LJF)

Charles Lloyd. Barbican November 2014. Photo Credit: Paul Wood

Charles Lloyd: Wild Man Suite + Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas: Sound Prints.
(Barbican Centre, Sun. 23rd Nov. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)

Trumpeter Dave Douglas paid tribute to the ‘warm feeling’ in the Barbican on the last night of the Festival. And so it was: wild applause, and it was only the end of the evening’s first half. Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano had just finished their Sound Prints set, the band ‘put together about three years ago’, inspired by Wayne Shorter’s ‘life and spirit’, including new music specially written for them by Shorter himself.

Douglas and Lovano’s sounds were well-matched for sheer energy as they opened with long tangled lines. (Lovano’s Sound Prints merging into Douglas’ Sprints) The boppish swing veered between tempos, Lovano’s burnished tone in fast clusters of notes as if he was having a friendly argument with himself. The passion in his playing almost superseded the notes.

There were hints of Footprints in Linda Oh’s pulsing bass line in Shorter’s Destination Unknown. It was wonderful to hear new, distinctive music from Shorter, complex and rich. There were convoluted sections and long notes, phrased across the beat, like dark twisting paths opening out into the sunlight- the way Speak No Evil does. Douglas’ solo punched each note into the air- there’s such clarity of thought and direct emotional appeal in his playing. In Shorter’s To Sail Beyond the Sunset, the angular riffs of Lovano’s solo were like geometric forms, filled in with tiny delicate scribbles- but I was straining to hear some of his under-amplified subtleties. Oh was mining the groove, standing very still as her hands flew up and down the bass. Notes ricocheted off the lowest bass string as she soloed with percussive power. Joey Baron crouched low for his short, dramatic drum solo- he’d already revealed his virtuosity throughout the gig.

Dave Douglas, Linda Oh, Joe Lovano
Barbican Nov 2014. Photo Credit: Paul Wood

Douglas’ spacious Ups and Downs was the encore, evoking the country/folk moods of some of his other projects. You just had to let Lovano’s gorgeous deep sound wash over you. One of the set’s most emotive moments was when Lawrence Fields’ piano broke out of the mid-keyboard range into high Romantic swirls over velvety horn backing lines.

Who could follow such a blazing start? Saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s Wild Man Suite, commissioned originally by the Wrocław Jazz Festival, was a far-reaching uninterrupted story with different narrators. ‘You can't shoot an arrow into infinity if you're always in motion,’ Lloyd once said. ‘You first have to draw the bow back.’ He was referring to his retreat from public view from the early 70s to the early 80s, after burning out. (Herbie Hancock once called him the first jazz-rock star). But the image could equally describe this extraordinary gig with its contrasting atmospheres of forceful energy and quieter contemplation.

Lloyd’s tone was soft at first (he’s spoken of the importance of tenderness in his playing). His sinuous lines were phrased as if he were playing lyrics, like his hero, Lester Young. The long, expressive Coltrane-influenced notes, punctuated with intricate runs, were utterly absorbing. His bop phrasing reminded us of his tenure in Cannonball Adderley’s bands. Lloyd was the main storyteller, but each band member took turns.

The set felt like the calm before a tropical storm, though there were outbreaks of collective free improv amidst the gentle grooves- often just one or two chords. It felt like a clear link with his late 60s million-selling albums. Every so often Eric Harland’s drums, which mostly brooded in the background, burst into tempestuous squalls as the rest of the band smiled at him in amazement. Lloyd is known for finding young geniuses in the past- Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Brad Meldhau, Michel Petrucciani...the list goes on. Tonight Gerald Clayton’s piano had an exquisite ringing tone, sometimes like random drops presaging the storm. Joe Sanders’ springy bass moved from pulsating bop to minimalist funky notes. A highlight was the bass bowed in duet with the woody quarter-tones of Socratis Sinopolous’ Greek lyra, like an upright fiddle. Miklos Lukacs’ Hungarian cimbalom- part hammer dulcimer, part harpsichord- sometimes sounded like a prepared piano. He played wild rhythms and eastern scales, the timbre adding a glow to Clayton’s piano.

Lloyd played tárogató and alto flute in the encores- he’s often credited with being one of the first jazzers to dip into world music. He recited lines from the Bhagavad Gita, making clear the spiritual roots of his music- before ending with a bluesy groove, reminding us he spent some of his early years working with Howlin’ Wolf.

A gig among gigs, led by a man whose life embodies jazz history, with a fine band that took us though extremes and out the other side feeling euphoric- the entire audience was on its feet, cheering.

LINKS: Review of Soundprints at Ronnie Scott's in 2012

DVD Review CharlesLloyd Arrows into Infinity

Interview with Charles Lloyd from 2013

CD Reviews of Charles Lloyd's Quartets and Hagar's Song


  1. OK Gsblog. I disagree: I find that Alison writes with her usual passion, understanding,and musical literacy. Feel free to develop your two-word put-down. Were you there too?

  2. Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas played with great energy and verve, but I still managed to fall asleep in the middle, thanks to the last throes of a cold virus. However, when Charles Lloyd came on, sleep was impossible. The music was riveting. The first number went on and on, which meant no breaks for the usual phlegmish symphony and it said much for the way the audience was held spellbound that clapping and coughing was kept in check rather than anyone break the mood. Gsblog, are you sure that you saw the same gig as we did? The review above seems spot on to me.