This set was recorded at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California on March 15, 2018, in celebration of the saxophonist/flutist’s 80th birthday. Lloyd’s band for the night included Booker T. Jones on keys, guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland. Although they’re not a regular working unit, they jelled for this performance; one could easily believe they’d been gigging together for years.
That’s important, because as affecting and even enlightening as Lloyd’s protean abstractions can be, they work best when they erupt and flow over a clearly delineated landscape. On free-form explorations like “Dream Weaver” (no relation to the Gary Wright pop hit) and “Ruminations,” his improvisations morph like musical ectoplasm while his bandmates, even as they soar into the nether regions along with him, maintain focus and continuity.
Lloyd also has an affinity for evocative melodies, and his breathy, post-Pres tone enhances the poignancy of his readings. His improvisational imagination remains robust, although at times he seems to fall back on “free” boilerplate—squeals, multiphonics, rushed arpeggios—and those fluttery run-ups and fall-offs he inserts into his lines often sound like little more than musical throat-clearing. Despite his valiant stab at “Green Onions” (always a treat, of course, when Booker T. is at the organ), he is not a soul player. These days, anyway, there’s no grit and precious little funk in his game, his Memphis pedigree notwithstanding.
Nonetheless, at his best, Lloyd’s commitment to music as a vehicle of spiritual uplift places him in a pantheon that includes Coltrane, Ayler, Sanders, and their musical progeny—as well as, for better or worse, the jam bands that gestated in San Francisco during Lloyd’s early heyday and have since forged a musical genre (as well as an entire subculture) of their own.
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