I'm a fan of Charles Lloyd,and have been for some time,his renaissance is a very welcome one.I tend to steer clear of sax piano duets,I prefer a rhythm section to be fully in place,but in all honesty,I bought this for completion's sake.It's stark,with a naked,exposed, quality,not by any means my favourite among his works,but haunting in its own way.The five stars are in anticipation of eventually loving it,rather than merely admiring it.Jason Moran,his quartet pianist,is good,too.I wonder what a collaboration with Keith Jarrett would give us?Those albums when he was a part of the group were a true meeting of minds,I think....
This is a recording of almost embarrassing intimacy at times. While discs such as "The Water Is Wide" and "Lift Every Voice" were confessional, plaintive, even restorative releases (in every sense of the word with "Lift Every Voice" constituting Lloyd's response to 9/11), this recording of Lloyd and Moran operating as a duo for the first time takes matters to a new level. Everything is imbued with an organic feel, from Lloyd's breathy tone on saxophones and flutes (the latter of which feature heavily in the 27 minute centrepiece which is "Hagar Suite", dedicated to Lloyd's great-grandmother, born into slavery).
However, running simultaneously with this intimacy of sound, is a restlessness of spirit, evident most obviously in "Pictogram", the only other Lloyd original apart from the afore-mentioned suite but also in the wonderfully-named "Dreams of White Buff" the disc's longest track and the second part of the suite. Moran's piano pulses, ebbs and flows, Jarrett-like, for one and half minutes before Lloyd enters in stately fashion on tenor sax, with perhaps his most beautiful performance of "Hagar's Song". The two musicians coax each other into an almost shrill exchange whereafter the music shifts from space and silence to ominous rumbles of sound with great ease and to equal effect.
Elsewhere, Lloyd and Moran provide distinctive interpretations of classics such as "Mood Indigo" and enrich, at least to my ears, "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" and the Bob Dylan number "I Shall Be Released" the originals of which I find too cloying and, in the latter case, sanctimonious. The fact that I have listened to "Hagar's Song" perhaps 20 times in the last 10 days is a testament to its quality, depth and variety of sound. Highly recommended indeed.
The legendary jazz tenor sax titan Charles Lloyd and his longtime muse from his quartet, multiple poll-winning pianist and MacArthur Foundation 'genius' Fellowship awardee Jason Moran, are caught on ECM records in enthusiastic, inspired duo performances of original compositions, jazz classics, show tunes, obscure ballads, and a Beach Boys mega-hit. Stripped bare of bass and drum accompaniment, these talented musicians are free to improvise and embellish, riding their internal duo pulse. The 'best of the best' begins with the beguiling "Pretty Girl", a touching version of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released", and a lovely languid "You've Changed". The expansive 5 part suite dedicated to his great, great grandmother is full of exotica (Journey Up River), beauty (Alone), turbulence (Bolivar Blues), exhaustion (Dreams of White Bluff), and serenity (Hagar's Lullaby) with Lloyd reaping the whirlwind on flute and saxophone. Then there is a sterling performance of Earl 'Fatha' Hines' "Rosetta" and a fabulous version of Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows" that is the icing on the cake. Quite a great improvisational duo with a singular musical purpose, recorded on the pristine ECM soundscape, covering a wide spectrum of songs. Charles LLoyd turns 75 this year and this recording with duo partner Jason Moran's protean pianism shows Mr Lloyd is playing at a peak of invention, facility, and exploration. Jazz is the swinging 'sound of surprise' and this is a great example, full of beauty. Highly Recommended. Four and a half SUPERB Stars! (14 tracks, reviewed in MP3 format.)
I, along with many other I'm sure, was introduced to Charles Lloyd through his wonderful live recoding of Forest Flower at the Monterey Festival in the mid-sixties and that record spent a lot of time on our Dansette record player (and you had to remember not to leave it on the turntable once it had finished playing otherwise the tube amp underneath the turntable would warp the record because it ran so hot). After that I remember in the early 70's buying for next to nothing, Lloyd's Live in Europe, Journey Within and Love In, and also Coltranes' Sound, from Woolworth's who had bought a job lot of remaindered Atlantic records and were piling them high and selling cheap). These were all good but did not, for me, have the impact of Forest Flower. After that he rather went to ground apart from guest performances on the Beach Boys' Surf's Up and Holland albums and truly odd records like Moonman.
Fast forward to the 80's and his association with ECM and I bought the marvellous Canto and then Lift Every Voice and Voices in the Night. I liked all of these very much, but Hagar's Song is something special. It is only Lloyd and the truly wonderful pianist Jason Moran - no rhythm section - and therefore has a very intimate, personal and stripped back quality. Lloyd's saxophone sounds more mellow here than at any time since Forest Flower and in many places is achingly beautiful. The piano is very richly recorded , particularly in the bass register, deliberately I suspect to provide the anchoring of the missing rhythm section. But the lyricism is also tempered with elements of freer expression in a number of tunes which removes any temptation to categorise this as wallpaper jazz.
I believe this is his best sustained piece of work since Forest Flower and recommend it unhesitatingly.