Wild Man Dance / I Long to See You (Blue Note) / (Blue Note)
HALF a century ago in the centre of Haight-Ashbury’s San Francisco hippie blossoming, the tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd brought jazz as close to a new age heart as it ever came. Lloyd’s quartet, including pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBae and drummer Jack De-Johnette performed to huge audiences at rock venues more used to Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company, (hear their 1967 album Love-in: The Charles Lloyd Quartet Recorded at Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco). And they broke other barriers in their tours of eastern Europe and the albums that followed, like Chalres Lloyd in the Soviet Union of 1970.
Lloyd, born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1938, had played in blues bands with BB King and Bobby Bland, and much influenced by Coltrane, with jazz groups led by Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley, before his iconic performance at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Then by the mid-’70s he had virtually vanished from the jazz scene as swiftly as he had arrived, becoming a teacher of transcendental meditation. A decade later, by the late ’80s, he reappeared with a series of powerful albums with European musicians on the Munich-based ECM label, his recording home for the ensuing two decades.
His 2015 return to Blue Note records, Wild Man Dance, has him playing at the Polish Wroclaw Jazztopad Festival with compatriots Joe Sanders (bass), Gerald Clayton (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums), plus the Greek Sokratis Sinopoulos, virtuoso of the stringed lyra and the Hungarian Miklos Lukacs, playing the mallets and strings of the cimbalom.
Lloyd’s Wild Man Dance Suite was written for the countryside around Wroclaw: “What birds fly there? Do rivers run through it?” he asked himself. The answers rise from the music, lucid but still mysterious as cimbalom and lyra begin the suite’s first movement, Flying Over the Odra Valley.
As Lloyd’s tenor joins them, it could be the Mississippi and Memphis that he is flying over: “I’m a blues man on a spiritual journey,” he says. “The blues comes out of a quest for freedom.” And it is there in his serpentine notes, in Clayton’s flowing phrases, Sanders’s depth and Cleaver’s ringing Detroit cymbals.
The track simply called Lark has a particular beauty. Clayton’s naked piano begins, Sinopoulos’s bowed strings sing sadly, Sanders’s arco bass joins him before Lloyd’s musical wings fly in. Ever a citizen and working troubadour of the world, he makes a musical unity of all his roots and influences. Here in Poland too, in the most cosmopolitan setting with internationalist bandmates, the quest continues.
In 2015 he was in Santa Barbara, California, recording his most elegiac of albums, I Long to See You with two guitarists — Bill Frisell and the pedal steel specialist Greg Leisz, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers. It is as if the ’60s have reprised with memories of Vietnam with Bob Dylan’s Masters of War, Joan Baez’s luminous voice with All My Trails and Joe Cocker’s soulful tones with You are So Beautiful.
Master of War begins the album and as you consider the huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the slaughter of thousands of Yemenis you wonder what has changed. Of Course Of Course goes back to Lloyd’s 1964 album of the same name. Sombrero Sam is from his 1966 album Dream Weaver and Frisell’s guitar bursts with creative zest.
Shenandoah is heartfelt and soulfelt; its beautiful melody flowing from Lloyd’s horn like its subject’s waters, free and undammed. Harland’s drums enhance its sheer natural power. All My Trails brings back a whole era, and guest Willie Nelson’s querulous vocal on last Night I Had the Strangest Dream recalls decades of draft resistance: “And the people in the streets below were dancing round and round. And guns and swords and uniforms were scattered on the ground.
I Long to See You is a glorious record, full of hope, reflection, defiance and optimism shining through the agency of music. “The deeper I drive into the ocean of sound, I find there is still deeper and further to go,” declares Lloyd after 78 years. Keep on diving!