Charles Lloyd Toasts 85 in Hometown Hearth


Lloyd performed an 85th birthday concert at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre on March 10.

(Photo: David Bazemore)

Beyond the musical merits and depths unfolded, Charles Lloyd’s latest concert at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre benefited from contrapuntal layers of history abuzz in this intimate and historic venue. Lloyd, based for 30-plus years in the affluent village of Montecito, just outside Santa Barbara, was celebrating his 85th birthday (officially on March 15, but granted the Friday night slot of March 10) by making his 19th hometown appearance in the acoustically and atmospherically inspired Lobero. The venue itself, which has proven to be one of the finer jazz-friendly rooms in the nation, celebrated its own 150th birthday on Feb. 22, making it the oldest theater on the West Coast and the third oldest in the nation.

Thus, stars were aligned for a special and symbiotic evening when Lloyd made another auspicious homecoming. Five years ago, the eminence gris saxophonist/flutist went big and career-spanning for his 80th birthday blowout, bringing along various musicians, including Booker T. Jones, from Lloyd’s original hometown of Memphis, in a wide-ranging show captured for the Blue Note album 8: Kindred Spirits (Live From The Lobero). By contrast, this year’s celebration was more toned-down and focused, as Lloyd led a flexible and formidable quartet with longtime ally Jason Moran on piano, occasional compadre Larry Grenadier on bass and a welcome new addition to the expanding Lloyd band-ographic family tree, Brian Blade on drums.

Since his 80th birthday in 2018, Lloyd’s presence and artistic momentum has only increased, in sync with a growing respect for his legacy and his creative staying power. While travel was kept at bay during the COVID lockdown, he kept busy (including a streamed concert from the Lobero Stage), the past year has seen him back on tour and releasing a trio of trio albums: Chapel, Ocean and Sacred Thread. (Speaking of the trio format, Lloyd’s “Sangam” trio, with percussionist Zakir Hussain and longtime drummer-ally Eric Harland, was recorded live for ECM Records in the Lobero, back in 2005.)

Lloyd’s latest Lobero show found him settling back comfortably into the acoustic piano-based quartet format that has defined the lion’s share of his career, going back to the famed lineup with Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette in the late 1960s.

Lloyd’s “birthday” quartet incarnation proved potent, sensitive and nicely in tune with the leader’s particular and ever-flexing inside-outside aesthetic. On this night, the group prevailed beautifully, from the ruminative bookends of the program — and popular items in Lloyd’s current songbook — opening with “Requiem” and ending with the pensive Mexican song “La Llorana.”

The saxophonist himself, who spoke not a word but had much to say musically, was in fine form, leaning toward the more introspective head space he is known to traffic in, adopting his customary long-game approach to the ever-morphing admix of free-play and structure.

Melodic heads and rhythmic guidelines are always subject to change and intuitive alterations on the spot, whether by Lloyd’s lead or in fascinating solo moments — especially from the deceptively light-touched but expansive-thinking asides by Moran. Blade lived up to his reputation as a tastemaker capable of fireworks but more keen on diving deep into the musical moment, a skill amply demonstrated in his long involvement in the Wayne Shorter Quartet.

Lloyd has always bowed in respect to particular personal inspirations — “deities,” in his words — in the jazz canon, as heard in this set’s inclusion of “Ghost Of Lady Day,” nodding to Billie Holiday’s supple and otherworldly phrasing and vocal spirit, and the elastic elation of Lloyd’s “Monk’s Dance.” His quartet easily fell into step, and in the homage-like spirit of these tributes. Lloyd took up his flute for the brooding reflectiveness of “Booker’s Garden,” honoring the iconic and lyrical trumpeter and friend from his youth, Booker Little, who died young. The tune has special significance with Moran, linked to its presence on the 2008 album Rabo da Nube, the first of many fruitful Moran/Lloyd encounters.

Warming up the emotional palette a few notches, Lloyd’s fluttering flute style was also central on “Beyond Darkness,” heard on the recent trio album with guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, and here tastefully acquitted in a quartet blend.

Reportedly, this particular quartet was planning a recording session to coincide with the concert. From the evidence of this night, it should be a valuable document in the long and unfolding, unveiling saga that is Lloyd’s musical trek, live and on record. In short, Lloyd’s latest Lobero home show found him to be kicking and contemplatively alive at 85. DB

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