Jazz review: Charles Lloyd at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center*

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Charles Lloyd rested his tenor saxophone at one point at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Saturday night and told the audience his younger quartet mates were ‘the best musicians in the world.’

The tribute raised a grateful smile from 35-year-old pianist Jason Moran, already established as a jazz master when he joined the unit three years ago. It was quite a compliment from the enlister of stars such as Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Billy Higgins, Brad Mehldau, John Abercrombie, Gabor Szabo, Dave Holland and Geri Allen.

By evening’s end, few in the packed modern amphitheater would have argued.

A somewhat subdued Lloyd described the occasion as difficult but beautiful. On one hand, the Memphis-raised Montecito resident was returning to the city where he made his first inroads.


But six days previously, Lloyd had lost his 89-year-old friend and mentor, Buddy Collette, the barrier-breaking woodwind artist who in 1960 had accelerated Lloyd’s rise by recommending him as the replacement for Eric Dolphy in Chico Hamilton’s adventurous ensemble.

Lloyd dedicated two of his originals to Collette: the wistful opener ‘Requiem’ and, later, switching to alto flute, the pondering ‘Beyond Darkness,’ with its distant African memories.

Now 72, Lloyd blew with a glowing, transparent tone, a freshwater flood of ideas and a transcendent attitude drawing from his Vedantic faith, reinforcing his widely held reputation as the truest exponent of 1960s-rooted jazz spirituality.

Lloyd embraced the full range of his tenor -- hunching his shoulders to slide surely into the highest alternate fingerings, dropping almost to his knees to tear out huge intervallic leaps.

The quartet breathed together with a spontaneity that would have startled if it weren’t so natural.

Moran effectively melded his innate astringency with Lloyd’s beauty. His caressing keyboard touch helped his occasional dissonant touches match Lloyd’s own. Reuben Rogers wrangled his upright bass like an anaconda, slipping from meditative stillness to dirty Mississippi blues slides, soloing with storyteller acuity and nailing his highest notes with precise intonation. Drummer Eric Harland staged a show of his own. Tapping a tambourine or building tumultuous polyrhythms, he kept the music exciting -- never settled but always centered.

Thelonious Monk’s somber ‘Monk’s Mood’ showcased the quartet’s suggestive rather than groove-oriented interplay, the focus changing from moment to moment. Between his solos, the lanky Lloyd, wearing a soft jacket and rose sunglasses, strolled to the rear and approvingly observed the others, hand over heart.

The quartet spread a less austere table than on its excellent new ‘Mirror,’ including a riotous conga-line explosion on the joyful ‘Passin’ Thru’ (from the Chico Hamilton repertoire) and a Ray Charles-flavored improvisation on the African American church standard ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’

When they closed after nearly two hours with an elegant, heart-squeezing rendition of Duke Ellington’s ‘Come Sunday,’ nothing more needed to be said.

-- Greg Burk

[UPDATE: The concert was presented as part of the Jazz Bakery Moveable Feast series.]