On the cusp of his 77th birthday, saxophonist Charles Lloyd is of an age and stature where people seek to fete and frame the spellbinding sprawl of his musical lifetime. There has been the documentary film Arrows Into Infinity, the unearthing of remarkable live recordings from the ’60s (Manhattan Stories) and the announcement that Lloyd will join the pantheon of NEA Jazz Masters at a ceremony this spring. Meanwhile, Lloyd can’t sit still long enough to properly pose for the bronze bust.
His current project, Wild Man Dance, is a panoramic, spiritual, multicultural opus, performed with a new band. Its world premiere was in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Wroclaw Jazz Festival in Poland in 2013. That concert recording is being released on Blue Note, as Lloyd’s first appearance on the label since 1985. For the first rendition of such an ambitious work, it is a spectacular achievement.
A continuous performance stretched over six sections for more than 70 minutes, Wild Man Dance features the serene vigilance of Lloyd’s arching extended notes, which soar in repose like a raptor combing the horizon. But Lloyd’s most distinctive stroke of inspiration was augmenting the classic quartet instrumentation with the virtuosic Greek lyra of Sokratis Sinopoulos and the dulcimer-like cimbalom of Hungarian Miklós Lukács. From the majestic opening to “Flying Over the Odra Valley” through the interactive climax of “Wild Man Dance,” the flowing, bowed passages from Sinopoulos and the hammered, harpsichord-like chimes of Lukács are integral to the thrust and fabric of the music.
Pianist Gerald Clayton frequently plays McCoy Tyner to Lloyd’s Coltrane, featherbedding the rapturous sax with a fusillade of notes on the more overtly spiritual sections (including parts of “Gardner” and “Invitation”) and spurring the band with a galloping gait during the more postbop portions (“Lark”). Bassist Joe Sanders is sturdy in tone and solos well on “River,” the coursing, most light-hearted segment of the suite. Gerald Cleaver rounds out the ensemble.
In an interview nearly five years ago, Lloyd told this writer that “For all my quietude, I am still a tender warrior.” Wild Man Dance displays how that resolve sustains his sparkle and replenishes his soul in senior citizenry.