Lloyd & Friends Stage ‘Marvel’-ous Show in SoCal


Lucinda Williams (left) with Charles Lloyd at the Lobero Theater in Los Angeles on Nov. 28.

(Photo: David Bazemore)

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd sometimes talks about his early desire to be a singer, a desire which has transformed his singing approach on his horn. Of late, the singing element has seeped deeper into Lloyd’s musical being and output, showing up in the form of actual vocal cameos by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones on his latest Blue Note album, I Long to See You, by his new group Charles Lloyd & the Marvels (said marvels being guitarist Bill Frisell, pedal steel-and-more player Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland).

When Lloyd, now 78, recently played one of his regular shows in his hometown venue-of-choice, the acoustic and ambient marvel known as the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, the vocal prowess and presence came courtesy of great American singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. The collaborative gesture was an encore performance, after a Lloyd-Frisell-Williams concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall last year.

At the Lobero, the Williams-featuring second half of the concert found Lloyd’s band functioning as an unexpectedly inspired backup band for the Louisiana-born, Los Angeles-based singer. The experience triggered reminders of selective encounters with vocalists in Lloyd’s past, from playing with blues and r&b acts growing up in Memphis, or sitting in and touring with the Beach Boys in Lloyd’s fabled “wilderness years” of the 1970s (not to mention his own psychedelic vocals on the 1970 cult classic album Moon Man). More recently, he has engaged in intriguing, multicultural ventures with Greek vocal legend Maria Farantouri. Still, the vast majority of his music over 50-plus years has been instrumental.

From a more local historical angle, hearing Lloyd in the Lobero is a deep-rooted tradition by now. It was here in early 2015 that he appeared, winningly, with this new, more Americana-flavored band, which soon thereafter headed into the Santa Barbara-based Sound Design studio to record a new album (tracks by Nelson and Jones were “flown in” long digitally). It was also in the Lobero that he premiered the ongoing trio known as Sangam, with drummer Harland and master table player Zakir Hussain, with the live recording from this room serving as the project’s acclaimed 2006 ECM album.

Once again, a kind of lived-in intimacy hovered over the recent Marvels show. The cross-generational teaming of Lloyd and Frisell has been an auspicious one, and the comparisons with Lloyd’s strong empathetic pairing with the late Gabor Szabo in the early ’60s is both implicit and intentional.

Strangely, on this night at the Lobero, Frisell seemed more subdued than usual, folding into the warm ensemble texture more than stepping forward with his solo statements. His palette of effects and available colors was more limited than usual, and sonic coloration became more the domain of Leisz, while Rogers (on electric bass) and Harland meted out grooves of the deepest, most apt sort. The heroic soloist role was left more to the leader, who put his tenor—and occasionally, flute—through some mellifluous changes, geared to the folk-country-gospel terrain at hand, in contrast to the more fervent, Coltrane-esque blowing in his acoustic quartet.

Tunes in homage to singers were, not surprisingly, a part of the set list agenda, starting with a ripe paean to the late Leonard Cohen, via his landmark song “Anthem” (“there’s a crack in everything/That’s what lets the light in”), as an opener.

Lloyd also continued his exploration of tunes from the Beach Boys (actually, Brian Wilson) masterpiece album Pet Sounds, bringing a cool introspection to the swaying 12/8 song “In My Room.” He has also put a personal stamp on “God Only Knows” and “Caroline No.” One of these years, Lloyd will recognize the great jazz harmonic potential of the song “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulders”).

The lovely, dusky Mexican tune “La Llorona,” which appears on I Long To See You, served as a mid-set reflection pool of sound and melancholic tinting, in marked contrast to one of Lloyd’s perky, tropical originals from his Szabo days. At that point, by Lloyd-ian logic, the time for his signature use of maracas was nigh.

From her earliest moments onstage, Williams seemed duly enamored of “her” band this night. With the subtle but sure framing of the Marvels behind her, Williams grabbed our attentions with versions of her emotionally fired-up originals “Ventura” and “Joy.” She gave fresh meaning and muscle to Bob Dylan’s “Masters Of War” (long in Frisell’s songbook, and the leading track on the new Marvels album), and dialed up fitting bluesy grit on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” with the band impressively kicking it—and also massaging it, as highly musical players will do. DB

Note: To read a review of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet’s performance of Pat Metheny’s chamber-jazz suite “Road To The Sun,” click here.

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