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CD Review: Charles Lloyd – Sangam

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What is a musician to do during the so-called “twilight years”? Continue on with various attempts at reliving the past? Press hard at reinvention? Take on elements of the current fashion so as to seem hip?

It’s a tough position to be in for some artists. Fans know what they want—or at least… what they don’t want. Just look at the last handful of recordings from Miles Davis. While there might have been flashes of brilliance on that live Montreux record, the Miles of yore just wasn’t there. And let’s not get started with Doo-Bop.

Of course, any musician leaving behind the “safe” domain toward the new—Miles’ electric period being a perfect example—will alienate some older fans while picking up some new converts.

Moving “toward the new” appears to be Charles Lloyd’s standard operating procedure. Not only is he showing no signs of slowing down, his latest live recording, Sangam, takes a bold step toward the new.

The Sangam lineup of Lloyd’s horns (and occasional piano), drummer Eric Harland (last heard on Jumping In The Creek), and tabla-wizard Zakir Hussain, forms something very close to the literal meaning of the album’s title—”Sangam” being the Hindi word for “confluence” or “union.”

Obvious from the first seconds of “Dancing On One Foot,” the chemistry between Hussain and Harland is undeniable. Hussain begins with one of his impossible tabla patterns and Harland fills in what little gap there is to be found. It’s not until the two-minute mark that Lloyd steps in with a long set of Eastern-flavored lines that bring to mind both Coltrane and Jimmy Guiffre. This inspiring improvisation ‘ends’ with a Harland drum solo that shows off the man’s intimacy with polyrhythms.

What makes this trio so interesting is not just the amazing interplay but the lack of a bass player. Hussain’s tablas fill that role while also providing their unique melodic content.

Throughout all of this is the tireless and endlessly inventive saxophone work of Lloyd. Players many years his junior wish their ideas came this effortlessly.

The concert ends with “Little Peace,” where the percussionists set up a driving beat over which Lloyd blows with the flute. Rightfully so, the leader steps aside to allow the drummers to blaze to a conclusion.

I tell you, if I have this much of a creative well to draw from a few decades from now, I’ll be a happy man.

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About Mark Saleski

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