The night begins with darkness. Royce Hall is dark and completely quiet as a screen descends from the ceiling and a film precedes the performance. The image of water and light appears superimposed over someone playing piano. Soon you begin to realize that this is a film of two musical brothers who are masters of the music; Charles Lloyd and Billy Higgins.
Isolated in what looked to be a lovely home in serene surroundings, Charles and Billy just make music together. It was a conversation that needed no plans just the two spirits locked into a higher plane to create beautiful spiritual music with influences from the east. When you watched the two multi-talented musicians play together on film, Charles plays tambourine and flute at the same time while Billy plays the Kalimba and chants in one of the many dialects that he was so fluent in. Billy, as you know, always sports a huge kidlike smile. He could be playing a solo and he would acknowledge you and smile. You would feel that one on one connection with him even though, at the same time, his rhythm is impeccable and he is not missing a beat. That smile was one of his trademarks and one that we who have loved him and his music will always remember.
When Charles refers to Billy he calls him Master Higgins. It is deliberate, I believe, for two reasons. First, that is how Charles will always remember him and his approach to music and second to let it be known to the world, the media and anyone else who recalls upon Billy to realize recognize and respect the fact that this man was a genius and a true master of music. As the film ended the darkness persisted but, in the sole spotlight, appeared Charles in the prayer position giving back the love that he just received from the appreciation of the documentary on him and Master Higgins.
Wasting no time, Charles goes to the piano and starts playing a wonderful interlude. It is like being present to a private melodic prayer like conversation between himself and the ever-present spirit of Master Higgins. Zakir Hussain, a world famous tabla virtuoso and Eric Harland, the top of the food chain when it comes to young brilliant drummers, both take their respective places with their instruments. Eric goes over to the piano and starts to play the strings as Charles continues on the keys. Then, like a track star passes on his baton, Eric takes over on piano and Charles moves to shakers as Zakir joins in with long toned chants and percussion. I kid you not, as Zakir was playing, the incense that burned in the spotlight looked like him connecting with the spirits. The trio create a theme that is hauntingly beautiful and the audience is still, mesmerized by its lovely eastern ritualistic sounding influences. Eric and Zakir also engage in a gentlemen’s battle of percussive endeavors, trading and simultaneously paralleling each other with speed, creativity and precision timing. They also had some vocal percussion exchanges that reminded me of Andy Kaufman’s character Latka, on the old television show, “Taxi”, only on 78 speedJ
Charles is an eccentric iconoclastic mad creative musical super hero! His apparel consists of a cap, shades and long coat.
The Jazz Matrix! The Oracle of music, peace, love and understanding. He is known for not only his brilliance as a thinker, a philosopher, his social awareness and genius as a musician but, he and Monk are the only cats who wear the caps that they do and it somehow symbolizes their uniqueness in a way that is unusually different. It is like the powers of the universe have knighted these gentlemen as the world court’s beacons of creative intelligence, who were sent down from above to bestow the planet with their message of knowledge, love and extraordinary musical talent. Charles has so much to say mentally that the English language does not allow him to express all of his thoughts. His mind is like a vast information super highway moving at light speed with way too much information for the ordinary person. So, in order to communicate with the masses, he expresses himself in beautiful musical compositions and you must listen and get the message in the music.
When you are engaged in listening, you feel like it is only you, the musicians and the music. You forget about the fact that you are in Royce Hall with the other thousand or so people. The music is that compelling. These guys don’t play music they build audible creations that are special and different each time they are played. What we experienced last night at Royce Hall can never be experienced again. That magic lives within us and the next time they play, it will be a new magic.
Tonight’s performance was like three concerts in one with the band morphing taking on new dimensions and different directions. First the trio played, and then Eric, in a duet with Charles on Tenor, accompanied the poet and almighty powerful thunderous voice of Kamau Daooud, the pin on the map that points to “The World Stage”. As Kamau finishes, blessing us with the words to connect all humanity as one, Geri Allen and Ruben Rogers join in and finish out the concert playing with the dynamic straight ahead sound of their quartet. Geri complements so perfectly and I have often heard Charles compliment her for this endearing quality. Ruben is just one of the most fluid, lyrical and sought after bass players in the business. The brotha just kills each solo like doing the dozens leaving the other person speechless in defeat. Throughout the concert, Charles played piano, shakers, flute, soprano, tenor and alto. You feel the roots, soil and voices that cry out from indigenous lands through this music. I bet if you potted some sunflower seeds onstage before the performance, we would be able to watch those flowers grow and come to life.
One of the most brilliant performances of music I have experienced in quite some time and you know I see a lot of music!
LeRoy DownsPowered by Sidelines