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Charles Lloyd Live at the 2001 Spoleto Festival

Charles Lloyd knows something about time.

Lloyd brought guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Jeffrey Littleton and drummer Tony Austin to perform on May 27 at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA to honor a master of time, the late drummer Billy Higgins, who had been scheduled to perform at the concert with the saxophonist.

Lloyd opened the show with a heartfelt monologue on what “Smiling Billy” meant to him, a soul mate who died May 3 from symptoms due to a problematic liver transplant he had several years ago. The first tune was a beautiful, adagio requiem for Higgins.

Lloyd, 63, played music from his latest ECM recording, The Water Is Wide, also his last recording with Higgins. He played for the first time, publicly, unreleased music from the Water Is Wide sessions that will comprise his next release, Hyperion With Higgins, which is set for a late summer release.

Lloyd’s sensitive swing was much in evidence at the festival. His was a gem of a performance in front of about 800 people. The band played simple, but sincere, melodies, improvising individually and collectively, brushing the unseasonably cool air with warm, tender offerings. The straight-ahead, 90-minute set was interspersed with stream-of-consciousness style raps from the ever-irrepressible Lloyd on a wide range of subjects—some lyrical and humorous, some ribald and nonsensical—apparently intended to reveal the existential absurdity of a lot of things we worry over in life.


Lloyd’s flights of flourish and extraordinary harmonics were alluring. His tone was breathy and fresh, and his intonations were passageways to a timeless place. Underneath the melodic sensitivity was a blues feel that made the music endearing and full of swing in spite of its delicacy. The quartet’s work was especially fine on Billy Strayhorn tunes such as “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” and “Lotus Blossom,” which brought to mind Joe Henderson and Frank Morgan.

Lloyd also played flute, and was particularly strong on that instrument on a tune called “Third Floor Richard.” His telling of the tune’s background provided the concert’s most humorous anecdote. He described Richard as a neighbor in New York City many years ago who “tuned up” friends and neighbors in his apartment, which had “a serious Moroccan and Colombian thing going on.”

All night, Lloyd played with precision and grace, blowing a lot of notes but editing his ideas very tastefully. Abercrombie was sensational all night as well. Both of these artists have been around a while and their voices are informed by all the styles of music. This was abundantly evident at Spoleto.

Originally Published