Passin’ Thru marks a decade for saxophonist/flutist Charles Lloyd’s “New Quartet” featuring pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. (The name differentiates this unit from his 1960s quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette.) Not surprisingly, it finds them even tighter and more inventive than on their 2007 debut, when critics proclaimed them one of jazz’s finest working bands. Four of the seven tunes date from the ’60s; Passin’ Thru shares its title track with that of Lloyd’s seminal 1962 Chico Hamilton date. Clearly, more than 10 years’ history figure here.
Case in point: Lloyd renders the original quartet’s “Tagore” (retitled “Tagore on the Delta”) as a kind of modal hippie jam. He drops flute flourishes and satisfied grunts all over Rogers and Harland’s rock groove, which Moran augments by strumming his piano strings like an autoharp. (Moran also takes a keyed solo, sounding remarkably like Jarrett.) A throwback, sure, but as fresh-sounding as ever.
None of the other old songs have that whiff of nostalgia. “Dream Weaver” pushes into postmodern harmony—mainly at Moran’s urging—and operates less on tension-and-release than on mediation-and-exuberance. Moran similarly rejuvenates “Passin’ Thru,” a frenetic samba that’s also colored by a long Rogers intro so downhome the bassist might as well be playing hambone.
Naturally, the new material is no less contemporary, including a free-improvised fantasia on “Part 5, Ruminations” and a stately drone on “Shiva Prayer.” The album peaks with “Nu Blues,” a simple 12-bar theme that changes character with each of its four soloists (including several astonishingly melodic choruses from Harland). Passin’ Thru might be this quartet’s best recording—and is an easy candidate for the year’s finest jazz album.