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Charles Lloyd/Billy Higgins: Which Way Is East

The greatest artists, it seems, never stop surprising us, even after they’re gone. So it is with the late Billy Higgins. In January 2001-just four months before his death-the great postbop drummer got together with his friend Charles Lloyd at the tenor saxophonist’s Montecito, Calif., home and recorded a series of solos and duos. The resultant two-CD set, Which Way Is East, casts both men in unfamiliar roles. Lloyd plays a great deal of alto, something he hasn’t done much of since the ’60s. Higgins not only plays drums, he also sings and plays guitar as well as various non-Western string and percussion instruments.

I find myself actually preferring Lloyd’s alto. On cuts like “Chomolungma,” Lloyd evinces a limpid sound on the smaller horn that lends his Trane-ish lines a more tuneful air. The slight reticence that characterizes his tenor work seems more appropriate to the alto. Lloyd also plays flute and piano on a few cuts. His flute is raw and expressive, his piano diffident but not unattractive.

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