For more than forty years, Charles Lloyd has been the small combo leader making distinctively impressionistic and soulful kind of small combo jazz. His tenor's delicate, almost alto-like timbre is instantly recognizable from just a single note. His prolific periods of the late sixties and since the late eighties have produced consistently strong albums. Many stars have played in Lloyd's band, and in many cases, gotten their major career boosts playing behind him. Jack deJohnette, Cecil, McBee, Keith Jarrett, and Michael Pettruciani all gigged in his group. And yet, Lloyd is oddly not often considered when the subject of major living figures in jazz comes up.
Charles Lloyd is the jazz legend who is hidden in plain sight.
There have been nearly an album a year from Lloyd since he came of of semi-retirement and signed with ECM Records about twenty years ago. It could be a daunting task just to decide where to start with his discography with that label since they're all serious efforts. When his latest Rabo de Nube was issued this past March, I was tempted to forgo writing about it, just because as good as I knew it was going to be, it's still "just another Charles Lloyd" album. That is, until I actually listened to it.
Rabo de Nube is the first live recording of his working quintet in some time, and his first since he's started his long association with ECM. Rueben Roges is on double-bass, while Eric Harland plays the drums and percussion.
For piano, Lloyd chose yet another pianist destined for greater things after his stint with with Lloyd is done: the young, talented Jason Moran. Actually, Moran is already established as a major solo artist in his own right. Regardless, even if he may not develop into the greatest pianist under Lloyd's tutelage, he could very well be the best fit ever for the leader's style. Moran plays the piano much as Lloyd plays the sax: favoring emotion and well-placed---sometimes unpredictable---notes over sheer chops (which he still has in spades).
For this live recording, Lloyd chose a setting that provided excellent acoustics: the Theater Basel, in Switzerland. That, combined with polite European audiences and a virtually flawless performance resulted in an live document that Lloyd should be proud of.
The concert starts off on a highly progressive footing; "Prometheus" is a kinetic, almost free number that stretches the abilities of everyone and everyone responds well. The song is just a short theme that periodically returns to signal the beginning of free form solos. Lloyd stretches out thoughtfully, supported by Rogers' nimble and malleable bass, before Rogers himself rumbles in the upper register. His cello work gradually segues into Moran's careful ruminations that build into a first-rate frenzy. Harland then takes his turn with some fine snare work, even belting out the theme effectively without the benefit of notes.