Field Notes: Charles Lloyd @ 75
Ain't nothin' like the real thing
I’m going over proofs of Nate Chinen’s excellent upcoming Gig column, a look at the burgeoning trend of jazz venues live streaming their concerts, and for once I’m not sure I agree with him. Because I want to plug Chinen’s column rather than spoil it for you, I’ll only reveal that it argues for the validity of live streams using the example of saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd’s recent 75th birthday celebration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (OK, I’ll give you a little more: The venue is a picturesque but spotty-sounding one, and the production values of the stream are worth writing home about.)
I wasn’t at that show, and I didn’t view that stream. But I did attend Lloyd’s birthday fete a week later at the Kennedy Center, and my counterargument would be this: Even if Lloyd and company played a VFW hall, and even if Stanley Kubrick was reanimated to direct the stream, there’s no way video footage of a Lloyd gig could trump the authentic live experience. There’s too much psychic vitality about this man and his nimble New Quartet of pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland.
On March 22, in an impressively filled main concert hall at D.C.’s premier cultural institution, Lloyd gave a sort of retrospective concert that managed to reiterate his continuing relevance. To put it another way, it felt momentous and sweeping even as it focused on friends and collaborators from Lloyd’s last decade. (One very notable exception: activist and comedian Dick Gregory, whose brief stand-up interlude was a welcome non sequitur.) The program could do this because it underscored Lloyd in some of his most flattering modes from throughout his career. He repeated whispery blues phrases like mantras on African-American spirituals (a startlingly good “Go Down Moses,” sung by Alicia Hall Moran). He positively flowed through bop changes—no saxist has a more ethereal yet commanding touch—and immersed himself in modal mysticism via his Sangam. His partners in that group are Harland and Zakir Hussain, who threatened to steal the show with his virtuosic tabla solos.
But the apex of the program was its portion featuring guests from the Lloyd Quartet’s 2011 double-CD, Athens Concert (ECM), the singer Maria Farantouri and lyra player Sokratis Sinopoulos. Farantouri, a musical and political hero in her native Greece, owns an imposing contralto that worked like Lloyd’s horn timbre: a singular voice that can seem surreal unfurling in real time. And the arrangements gave Lloyd the space, static harmony and grooving momentum in which he excels. (Few saxophonists this side of Coltrane can cast such inspired language atop a single chord.) There was a kind of meditative uplift in this show that jazz regularly aspires to but rarely achieves.