Charles Lloyd’s Latest Lavish Set


A stately, sagely status hums beneath the surface of a celebratory March 15, 2018, concert by saxophonist Charles Lloyd.

(Photo: Dorothy Darr)

On the occasion of his 80th birthday, saxophonist Charles Lloyd staged a concert of homecoming proportions. The show on March 15, 2018, was set in his adopted hometown of Santa Barbara, California, at the Lobero Theater—a historic and fitting locale which also was the site of Lloyd’s 2006 live recording Sangam.

This 2018 concert—now lavishly preserved on a two-CD (or three-LP) live recording/DVD set, with a 96-page book and two lithographs in the mix—also touches on the city of Lloyd’s birth, Memphis, and gets a boost from organist Booker T. Jones making a guest appearance.

8: Kindred Spirits (Live From The Lobero) clearly is a multidimensional box set, and ranks as Lloyd’s most expansive and elaborate dispatch to date. The saxophonist’s fifth release on Blue Note since signing to the label in 2015—following years recording for ECM—also arrives at a ripe moment in the bandleader’s still-fruitful career. The same year Lloyd moved over to Blue Note, he also entered the ranks of other revered NEA Jazz Masters, helping to propel buzz about his status as an éminence grise from a generation of players that seemed slowly to be disappearing.

Considering the significant symbiosis of activities during the past several years, a stately, sagely status hums beneath the surface of the 2018 concert—and over the entire heady package.

Setlist-wise, Lloyd taps his own 50-plus years of recording, going back to such originals as “Island Blues” (which he first performed in drummer Chico Hamilton’s ensemble) and his best-known composition, “Forest Flower,” from the 1967 album of the same name. “Requiem” is a melancholic musing in the vein of John Lewis’ “Django,” and his arrangement of the traditional Mexican folk tune “La Llorona,” awash in handsome sorrow, serves as a showcase for the talents of pianist Gerald Clayton.

For the performance, Lloyd also indulges his proclivity for select guitarists, a short list including ‘60s soulmate Gabor Szabo, Bill Frisell (from the saxophonist’s current band, The Marvels) and here, with the ever-elastic and gig-suitable Julian Lage. That last player comes off as strong and sensitive foil for the elder bandleader, as well as providing some of the show’s most enticing solos.

Signature moods of Lloyd’s musical persona make their way through the generous concert, from the unabashedly Coltrane-esque modal intro to “Dream Weaver” (Lloyd long has grappled with comparisons between his own groups and Trane’s classic quartet) to the tasty morsel of mid-‘60s kitsch that crops up on his jaunty “Sombrero Sam.”

Jones’ tasteful work on B-3 lends a beautiful textural glow to Lloyd’s freewheeling sound, as on the soul-flavored coda to “Forest Flower,” the apt gospel coloration on the hymn “Abide With Me” and a fresh twist on Jones’ signature “Green Onions” (with Blue Note boss Don Was contributing bass). Interestingly, the veteran keyboardist also laid out some of the evening’s most purely jazz-infused and impressionistic harmonic turns when he took to the piano to play and sing the sweet “Song For Charles,” an original dedicated to the saxophonist on his landmark birthday.

The overall topography of the show (and box set) emphasizes the terrain of Lloyd’s life in music, accentuating material from the earliest phase. But the familiarity of that nostalgic ”been there, done that” agenda takes an illuminating detour into what might be the concert’s highlight, “Part 5: Ruminations,” which features Lloyd’s most engaging sax work on the album. Opening with some ambling, rambling free play by the ensemble, Lloyd interacts with his longtime drummer, Eric Harland, in a bright flash of Ornette-bop phrasings before leading the freely structured suite-like piece into fetching piano and drum solos.

Closing out the performance, Lloyd called Billy Preston’s ballad “You Are So Beautiful” for an encore, a tune that showed up on his first recording with The Marvels back in 2016. Leaning into both his penchant for singing through his horn and his recent tendency to fold pop-soul repertoire into his work, the saxophonist seems to be channeling Joe Cocker’s distinctive rendition of the tune—with pleading emotion and cracked tones in tow.

Cocker, too, spent several years living in Santa Barbara, bringing yet another resonance to the performance and recording that serves to remind listeners of Lloyd’s undiminished creativity. DB