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