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JT Editor Evan Haga Introduces the June 2015 Issue

A night at the museum with Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd, Skopje Jazz Festival, Oct. 2011

Right now, Charles Lloyd, 77, is the most dependable member of what I refer to as jazz’s “main event” club-that elite handful of A-listers whose performance fee for a single European concert can parallel the cost of a ranch house in the Atlanta suburbs. You know the caliber of Jazz Icon I’m talking about: He performs concerts in symphony halls and not sets in clubs (though one-off anniversary dates in historic small rooms are permissible). In 2015, he continues to get newspaper previews when playing in cities other than New York. The standing ovations come not only after his concert but before it too. The atmosphere around the gig takes on an element of religion: This isn’t a night out, it’s a séance.

Other still-thriving members of the club-say, Wayne Shorter and Keith Jarrett-have honed their ticket-moving mystique through the possibility of musical divinity. Will Shorter take the audience along with him into the stratosphere or will he eye his soprano sax repeatedly like it’s a faulty car part? Will Jarrett conjure up a new canon or will some chump in the front row forget his lozenges?

Every time I’ve seen Charles Lloyd, including the three performances I took in over the past month, he’s reached the summit. Aside the Temple of Dendur at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 18, he ascended higher still. That Saturday night, Lloyd performed his Wild Man Dance Suite in its requisite sextet format: Jason Moran on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Eric Harland on drums, plus two Greek musicians, Sokratis Sinopoulos on lyra and secret weapon Miklós Lukács on the cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer he used as a harmony instrument, at times melding seamlessly with Moran; as textural garnish, creating the spiky timbres of a prepared piano; and as a vessel for virtuoso solos, attacking it like Milt Jackson.

With regard to acoustics, this vast, high-ceilinged concrete room can be dangerous: I’ve heard chamber ensembles do fine, but with drums and amplification it becomes an audiophile’s hades. Lloyd and company, especially Harland, held the reins on their dynamics with expert control, never sacrificing intensity while also never letting their collective sound wash. Lloyd, whose shamanistic vibe seemed custom-made for the venue, or vice versa, filled out the space with deep blues, moving run-on melodies and his trademarked feathery-Trane runs. (Production-wise, his huge-sounding tenor sax suggested his former label, ECM; you almost expected to spot Manfred Eicher at the console, twisting that reverb knob toward 11.) In short, he delivered yet again on the reputation that preceded him.

Originally Published