JAZZ REVIEW : Lloyd’s Rich Tenor Sax Is Back in L.A.


When personal reasons prompted tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd to take a sudden, and lengthy, hiatus from the jazz scene in 1969, he was a bona fide star. In those days, he was known to both jazz and pop fans as a dynamic improviser and composer who was one of the most expressive and interesting disciples of the great John Coltrane.

Lloyd is now clearly back--he re-emerged in the early ‘80s, but it’s only in the last five years that he’s been steadily active. And, while he may not yet be the major figure he once was, he is decidedly a masterful, and important, musician, one who plays in a unique and distinctive manner that still sometimes shows echoes of Coltrane.

Sharing billing with Cedar Walton’s first-rate trio, Lloyd opened his first Los Angeles club date in more than 20 years Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill and was in complete command of his milieu. With his tone alternately rich and powerful then delicate and wispy, he wooed a sparse yet enthusiastic crowd with music that was often compelling and thrilling, delivering riveting solos that regularly built to dramatic peaks.


The performance was a sterling example of acoustic jazz that straddles the fence between freedom and structure, where melody is king but is now and then deposed by chaos. The audience was mostly with Lloyd, often reacting gustily with laughs, shouts of joy and plain head-bobbing. But occasionally listeners appeared distracted when the saxman played long passages that lacked center.

Lloyd, 56, and his cohorts--the estimable pianist Walton, drum master Billy Higgins and solid bassist David Williams--offered a deftly balanced program of lyrical originals, drawn mainly from “Acoustic Masters I,” an album the foursome made last year for Atlantic Records. On the softer tunes such as “Lady Day,” Lloyd played tenderly, then suddenly dropped in volatile outbursts. On the up-tempo cooker “Hommage,” he comprised his solo of swoops, shouts and lines with hard rhythmic punch. His classic “Forest Flower” was a highlight.

Walton’s threesome flawlessly supported Lloyd, and Higgins more than once anticipated a Lloyd ascent toward a climax, prodding and pushing the saxophonist, who responded with rapid sprays of colorful notes.

* Charles Lloyd, with Cedar Walton’s trio, continues tonight through Sunday, 9 and 11 p.m., at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. $14-$16 cover, two-drink minimum. Information: (213) 466-2210.