03/22/11

Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Live at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Review of performance on January 29, 2011 at Rose Hall

Jazz fans and critics were already aboard the Charles Lloyd New Quartet bandwagon, particularly since the newness of the quartet is upheld by pathfinding pianist Jason Moran, who was just eight days past his 36th birthday—and still comfortably less than half the leader’s age – when the Quartet headlined at Frederick P. Rose Hall. Whether they dipped into recorded rep or unveiled new work, results were bound to please at the Rose, which is nearly as much a Cadillac among jazz concert venues as Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, down the hall, is among jazz clubs.

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D. Darr

Charles Lloyd Quartet (L to R: Lloyd, Reuben Rogers, Jason Moran and Eric Harland)

Mostly, it was the printed program that marred an otherwise impeccable Jazz at Lincoln Center event. We expect embellishments, fabulations, and inaccuracies in these booklets to be confined to the advertising. Allowing for the vagueness of “selections will be announced from the stage,” standard enough for a jazz concert, we should be able to rely all-the-more on the other paltry info set to print. If a 15-minute intermission is specified, there should be one; and if we read “CHARLES LLOYD, Tenor and Alto Saxophone, Flute, Tárogató,” we reasonably expect Lloyd to play all these instruments, not merely bring them onto the stage.

All that hardware was onstage throughout, so audience members who consider Lloyd’s flute playing nonpareil – or would have liked to hear a tárogató live for the first time – could legitimately exit with thoughts that they hadn’t gotten all they expected. On the other hand, when Lloyd began his second encore, “Tagi,” he played on none-of-the-above, sitting down at the piano and doing a spoken vocal. Truly beyond expectations was the guest appearance of Moran’s wife, vocalist Alicia Hall Moran, who sanctified the occasion with a couple of spirituals, “Go Down, Moses” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the latter as a first encore.

The righteous component she brought to the nine-piece playlist was arguably the only one that repeated. For if the pieces that bookended the program, “I Kept My Life/Being and Becoming” and “Tagi,” were both in Lloyd’s mystical Eastern mode, both solemnized by Reuben Rogers’ bowed bass; the opener, graced by a long out-of-time intro on sax, was notable for its meditative inwardness; while the incantatory encore bore the stamp of Coltrane-coined prophecy, breathing “Om” from the Earth’s core.

What came between restlessly traversed the jazz idiom, never standing still in one groove. After the opening meditations (for it was Moran who ruminated over the arco in “Being and Becoming”), Lloyd made his one withdrawal from the American songbook, judiciously choosing “I Fall in Love Too Easily” for its piquant regret – and perhaps for merchandising the 2010 Mirror CD. But the time had come to reassure us that it wasn’t to be play-pretty-for-the-people all evening long. Lloyd brought a frantic fire to “Prometheus” that made his solo for the recorded version on Rabo De Nube seem almost contemplative by comparison, but it was Moran who was truly the spark here, bringing the piece to a prodigious climax between solos by Rogers and percussionist Eric Harland.

Harland was the standout on “Caroline, No,” laying down a fine intro to the Beach Boys tune that transitioned into a more grooved and swinging version than we find on the Mirror album, with Moran and Lloyd alternating a couple of solos apiece. Rogers ushered in “Passin’ Thru,” which became way further out than it was 48 years earlier when Lloyd first recorded it – with a merengue twist – while he was with Chico Hamilton. If the leader tended to sound heated and chaotic in this Ornette-like frontier, Moran’s solo was refreshingly carefree in its wild freedom, hardly grazing the line that Lloyd laid down.

Although there were six tunes from Mirror, they all had a fresh personality in their concert clothes. “La Llorona” morphed into a bluesy ballad at the Rose, capped by Moran’s power solo, so it was almost as different from the studio version as the spirituals, where Moran’s missus gave them back their voice. After Lloyd’s soulful intro, “Lift Every Voice” evolved into a husband-and-wife duet. “Tagi,” on the other hand, shed much of its intimacy in the concert hall. Instead of whispering into a studio microphone, Lloyd realized the necessity of speaking his closing message aloud. In the process, it gained new vatic dimensions.

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