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Charles Lloyd: Hyperion With Higgins

One is tempted to hone in exclusively on Billy Higgins’ ebullient playing-every rebound, roll and cymbal crash-throughout this satisfying companion piece to last year’s The Water Is Wide. Standing as the late, great drummer’s last recorded work, it’s only natural to focus in on his final statements in a long career permeated with smiles and an irrepressibly swinging spirit. But the work here is of such a piece that you can barely separate the parts from the overall fabric. Everything hangs together and flows so organically, from Larry Grenadier’s near subliminal bass lines to Brad Mehldau’s crystalline piano statements to John Abercrombie’s warmly fingerpicked guitar lines, all in the service of Lloyd’s resplendent compositions, each a thing of grace and fragile beauty.

A subtle Brazilian strain runs through the mellifluous opener “Dancing Waters, Big Sur to Bahia (for Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso),” which has the tenor saxophonist affecting a mellower pose (more John Klemmer than John Coltrane) than on other tracks here. “Bharati” is more dynamic, featuring the kind of forceful, fluid scalar runs that Lloyd is noted for since 1966’s Forest Flower. The piece is also underscored by some particularly brilliant tempo shifts and percussive coloring by Higgins, who shifts nimbly back and forth between 12/8 and 4/4.

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