In 2015, after 25 years with ECM, where he created one of the lasting bodies of work in modern jazz, Charles Lloyd moved to Blue Note. His first Blue Note release, Wild Man Dance, was well received. His second will initially cause concern in some quarters. “Charles Lloyd & the Marvels”? Vocal tracks with Willie Nelson and Norah Jones? WTF?
Everyone can relax. I Long to See You is mostly gorgeous.
Jazz musicians tend to make their best records with their regular bands. Lloyd’s masterworks are albums made with his working quartets, like Forest Flower on Atlantic and Canto and The Call on ECM. The new venture called the Marvels is Lloyd’s long-term bassist and drummer, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland, respectively, plus two guitarists, Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz. This ensemble, even if it proves short-lived, sounds inevitable, preordained.
There is high-level unconditional jazz here, like two Lloyd staples from the ’60s, “Of Course, Of Course” and “Sombrero Sam,” and “Barche Lamsel,” a rapt 16-minute inner search. But the most striking pieces are popular and folk tunes. The Marvels can transform a song just by playing its melody. Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” dramatically rises and falls. Frisell is just right for Lloyd. His version of lyricism is fragmentary and oblique; Lloyd’s is flowing and aspiring. The two overlay beautifully. On “Abide With Me” and “All My Trials,” Frisell’s flickering, lingering tones deepen Lloyd’s spell. The yearning sustains of Leisz on pedal steel deepen it further.
The two overdubbed vocals are harmless. On “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” Willie Nelson’s voice is quavery but his message is strong. And what’s not to like about Norah Jones breathing in your ear on “You Are So Beautiful”?
The desert island track is “Shenandoah,” dead slow, Lloyd on tenor saxophone softly crying high while Frisell and Leisz array glittering light all around him. “Shenandoah” will make you sit very still in your chair.