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For half a century - from the legendary 'Forest Flower' quartet of the 60s all the way through to today - master saxophonist Charles Lloyd has been one of the most insightful band leaders in all of jazz, encouraging great players to give of their best. Many critics have opined that Lloyd's "New Quartet", with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland may be the best of them all. The group's previous release, the live Rabo de Nube, was a sensational success, so this studio recording is especially eagerly-awaited.
'Mirror' is the first studio album by the Lloyd-Moran-Rogers-Harland unit and it features beautiful, transformed versions of favourites including both Lloyd originals and tunes Charles has made his own over the years. There is a pair of Thelonious Monk tunes, "Ruby, My Dear" and "Monk's Mood", as well as hymns and traditionals including "Go Down Moses", "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and "The Water Is Wide". Lloyd covers Brian Wilson's "Caroline, No" (the saxophonist guested on several Beach Boys albums in the 70s, including the classic "Surf's Up"), and plays the standard "I Fall In Love Too Easily". Lloyd originals include "Desolation Sound", "Mirror", "Tagi" (which includes a spoken-word meditation by Lloyd) and "Being and Becoming".
There is plenty of Lloyd's graceful, mellifluous and poetic tenor sax: We also get to hear some of his rarely-showcased alto saxophone, the instrument that Billy Higgins called Charles's "secret weapon". The band plays superbly, with Jason Moran in particular exhibiting all the skills that have made him a multiple poll winner.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd (tenor and alto saxophone, voice), Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (double-bass), Eric Harland (drums, voice)
Saxophonist Charles Lloyd has always operated at a tangent to the jazz mainstream. Coming to prominence in the 1960s with a progressive yet accessible mix of Coltrane-influenced post-bop and sunny soul-jazz, his quartet with drummer Jack DeJohnette, pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Cecil McBee achieved unlikely fame with the hippie counterculture and scored a massive hit with their 1966 album Forest Flower. Lloyd largely dropped from sight in the 1970s and most of the 1980s, but he returned in 1989 with Fish Out of Water, revealing a mature sensitivity and an inclination towards ballads, and marking the beginning of his ongoing relationship with the iconic ECM label. With this latest release he seems to have come closer then ever to mainstream respectability, while retaining some of his maverick idiosyncrasies.
Mirror is Lloyd’s first studio recording with his young quartet featuring pianist Jason Moran, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers. As on their live debut – 2008’s Rabo de Nube – Lloyd harnesses their youthful energies to create lush, tender ballads with a deep respect for jazz tradition. There are two affectionate versions of Thelonious Monk tunes, as well as a delicate rendition of the standard I Fall in Love Too Easily – on which Lloyd swaps his usual tenor for the alto saxophone, revealing a fragile vulnerability not always detectable in his playing. There’s some accomplished support from the sidemen too. Rogers steals the show on The Water Is Wide with a succulent, bluesy vamp; and Harland pulls off a feat of lateral thinking on a version of the Beach Boys’ Caroline, No, rattling out free-ish, skittering snare behind a loose ballad.
It’s in the final quarter of the album that Lloyd’s radical sensibilities shine through. Lift Every Voice and Sing transforms an old-time spiritual into intense free-jazz; Being and Becoming shimmers with a limpid spirituality; and the album finale, Tagi, has Lloyd delivering a hushed recitation on Eastern philosophy over a deep arco bass drone, with Harland’s skipping drums revisiting the 2006 album, Sangam, he and Lloyd made with master tabla-player, Zakir Hussain.
It’s been a long, strange trip for Charles Lloyd – but the journey’s far from over.--Daniel Spicer
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Top Customer Reviews
A quick look at the track listing is not overly encouraging. Three of the tracks have appeared on Lloyd's releases in the last decade and the proliferation of standards suggests a lack of inspiration. However, the opening notes of "I Fall in Love Too Easily" dispel any such doubts, Lloyd's alto beautifully winding its way round the melodic, restrained and doleful bass of Reuben Rogers. "Desolation Sound" sounds initially like Coltrane's "Naima" before revealing it as worthy of the jazz firmament as "Monk's Mood" or "Ruby, My Dear" which appear elsewhere.
Although Lloyd's flute playing is conspicuously (and sadly) absent, his saxes sing with a richness, maturity and vitality. For anyone who has seen him live, Eric Harland's drumming is pretty restrained throughout, but there is still plenty of snap and crackle as he plays with a skittish sensibility reminiscent of Jon Christenson. Jason Moran's piano playing is always elegant and colourful but, for me, Rogers steals the sidemen's show, displaying great versatility. The intensity and edge increase with the final three tracks - a deconstructed "Lift Every Voice and Sing", the wonderful "Being and Becoming, Road To Dakshineswar With Sangeeta" and the possibly even better "Tagi" full of the Indian feel reminiscent of many of Lloyd's releases as Lloyd narrates a poem over wonderful bowed lines from Rogers. It is a climatic feeling to a great album which, for all that it does not quite heat the peaks of its predecessor, is highly recommended.
Lloyd is the elder statesman-cum-guru drawing the younger musicians into his spirit slipstream,allowing them the space to open up and be themselves,all looking for the zone,"being in the music in the moment",when the band improvises collectively, "without any worries,just giving it all".On `I Fall in Love'we get an elegant,swinging reading,the alto sax weaves up and down around the throbbing bass.
On `Go,Down Moses',the spiritual,we get free-form floating sax with tight beat, counterpointed by Moran's piano.La Llorona,a traditonal song,is plaintive and moving with lyrical sax over a slow tempo rhythm section,underscored by piano. 'Caroline,No' the Beach Boys pop song has been transformed into a jazz standard.Lloyd/Moran carry the melody and improvise off it,with bass/drums anchoring it.
Two Monk tunes are exquisitively covered with melodic free-rein piano and free-floating tenor sax.On `Mirror', the golden tones of his sax ride over feeders from piano,bass and drums.`The Water is Wide'opens with Rogers bluesy bass riff,the trio funkily counter a rhapsodic sax followed by Moran's gospel chords framed by Harland's easy beat.The hymn `Lift Every Voice and Sing',becomes complex,
interactive post bebop. `Being and Becoming'a spiritual Eastern-influenced original where sensuous sax glimmers drop like autumn leaves over a skittering beat.'Tagi'is like a Ginsberg-inspired Eastern meditation,piano trills flow through bow-like bass lines.The sax flies up over the mountains of the mind on a Coltrane-like spiritual quest of self-overcoming.Listening to the CD is akin to purification,self-healing.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Charles Lloyd is brilliant, but add Moran and Harland into the mix and you create something wonderful. Beautiful and top quality second period Lloyd.Published 6 months ago by Spusbunny
This is the first Charles Lloyd album I have bought following reading the rave reviews. Obviously someone loves it but I found it totally dreary. Read morePublished on 11 Dec. 2010 by Mr. S. Lawless
As someone who has been following the music of Charles Lloyd for a number of years, and has most of his recorded music, I have found this set to be superb, and a tribute to the... Read morePublished on 10 Dec. 2010 by N. Moreland