Charles Lloyd Brings Live Show Back ‘Home’

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Charles Lloyd leads his quartet at the Lobero Theater. From left, Gerald Clayton, Lloyd, Reuben Rogers and Justin Brown.

(Photo: David Bazemore)

Charles Lloyd belongs to an ever-narrowing elite club of influential jazz veterans who have managed to carry their legacies gracefully, explore new possibilities and keep close tabs on the all-important jazz ethos of “the moment” in the heat of musical action. He works from a songbook of original material and outside sources dating back to his salad days of the early ’60s — working with and writing for Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley before busting out on his own wildly popular quartet’s ascent — but he rarely wallows in mere nostalgia. Lloyd is all about keeping alive and chasing down a vibrant and contemplative spirit.

Such a delicate balancing act assumes a particular meaning when Lloyd can be caught in his “hometown” venue, Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater, on Oct. 16. The latest Lobero visit found him in a reconfigured quartet with younger players Gerald Clayton (by now entrenched in a tight alliance with Lloyd, and an increasingly important adventurer in his own right) and Justin Brown taking up longtime drummer foil Eric Harland’s seat. Long-standing mainstay bassist Reuben Rogers remained very much grounded in there-ness, as a solidifying presence able to follow the music’s sometimes twisting trajectories on a moment’s notice.

Having been around for much of jazz’s history over the past 60-plus years, Lloyd is also a lifeline to connections rooted in the music — jazz and beyond. After opening with the musing textures of “The Dirge,” the lean, sharp-dressed saxophonist took the microphone to pay homage to important figures who recently died — “left town,” in Lloyd’s lexicon — including pioneering impresario George Wein and Greek master Mikis Theodorakis. Theodorakis’ tune “I’ve Kept A Hold On My Life” was then supplied a sensitive rendition by the band.

Lloyd’s Lobero outing was transcendent on more than one level, as a musical experience itself and as a cathartic transcendence from the pandemic chokehold on live music. Just a year ago, Lloyd appeared on this stage — but in an eerily empty theater — for a special streamed concert. It was a morsel of solace, tuning in from our respective home-based outposts. Three years ago, Lloyd performed a grand 80th birthday concert here, with varied personnel including guitarist Julian Lage and a guest shot from Booker T. Jones (a fellow Memphis-born legend), an event captured on the commemorative Blue Note Records package 8: Kindred Spirits (Live From The Lobero).

If there was a generally reflective, elegiac air to Lloyd’s set this time out — capped off by a ruefully gorgeous encore of the Mexican tune “La Llorona” — Lloyd also kicked the energy levels up a notch or three at times. A wily blues, with Lloyd manning the flute, became a vehicle for the challenge of respecting a timeless form while punching at its limits, a tack especially well maneuvered in Clayton’s sidewinding, harmony-tweaking solo. Sticking to serious and mostly original musical business, Lloyd avoided pop songs, standards or Monk tunes, as can be his wont. We have come to expect him to dodge “Forest Flower,” his best-known (and probably best) tune. Not wanting to dwell on past glories, while also respecting his own legendary past, is, again, part of the operative paradox of Lloyd’s musical being.

Onstage, drummer Brown brought his power and flexibility to the job, if seeming a bit subdued by his standards. A dynamic blast of a solo reminded us of the drummer’s innate firepower. This writer had seen Brown playing with Lloyd at the Ystad Jazz Festival in 2014, and there seemed a strange friction buzzing between the players, resulting in a crackling vulnerability — a fascinating quality in its own right. But here, Brown fell right into the proper Lloyd band mode of following the boss’s not-always predictable moves between freedom and structure. One expects Brown will loosen up in the role as things progress.

All in all, Lloyd was in fine expressive form, having by now mastered the light-yet-mighty style he calls his own, with elements of the strong Coltrane influence and the acknowledged influence of Lester Young, mixed with some free-ish impulses tinged with folk aspects reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s brew. He veered away from his tenor to play flute on one tune, and resisted any instinct to pick up his Hungarian tarogato onstage. Maracas were left at home. The spotlight was trained on his particular way with the tenor saxophone: tones can speak, and Lloyd’s sound is a wonder of the jazz world.

To hear Lloyd bring it home again — to this room he calls his “living room” and after having to listen in the distanced mode of streaming from our own living rooms a year ago — had a certain healing, re-emergent effect. And that sensation arrived beyond the inherent balm of the music itself. DB



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