Tone Poem is where composers and forms coalesce and commingle. The latest offering from the 83-year-old saxophone great mixes originals with tunes by Ornette Coleman, Leonard Cohen, Bola de Nieve, and others in a mystical brew of American styles: jazz, blues, country, and Americana. And Lloyd’s dream team in the Marvels—guitarist Bill Frisell, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland—are experts at blurring edges.
Lately, Lloyd has been thriving in these borderless lands. The Marvels’ first two albums, both on Blue Note, featured Americana vocalists—Willie Nelson and Norah Jones on 2016’s I Long to See You and Lucinda Williams on half of 2018’s Vanished Gardens. Tone Poem, on the other hand, is all instrumental. Conceptually, Lloyd constellates Coleman’s “Peace,” Cohen’s “Anthem,” and de Nieve’s “Ay Amor” as pleas for conciliation. Played languorously and dreamily by the Marvels, these not-so-disparate tunes absorb each other’s flavors like ingredients simmering in stew.
That simmer seldom comes to a boil, which means your attention is liable to wander at some point. Across a whopping 70 minutes, Tone Poem’s consistent vibe sometimes threatens to tip over into homogeneity. But if you take the time to settle in, pour something strong, and listen on a decent system, its subtle pleasures will reveal themselves. “Exciting” may not be the operative word, but “satisfying” nails it.