Merging Present and Past


When last we heard from saxophonist Charles Lloyd, he was scheduled to play in Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater. It was 1990, just after the devastating Painted Cave Fire, which made the national news and left the town in a state of shock.

Lloyd said his first thought was to cancel the show. But “someone called the box office and said his house had burned up and he’d lost his tickets in the fire and he wanted to replace them,” Lloyd said. “When we heard about that, we knew we had to go through with this.”

On Sunday, Lloyd returns to the Lobero, having finished a new chapter in his circuitous musical life. The last eight years have been bountiful for Lloyd. He has made several respected albums for the ECM label and a few years ago garnered kudos for a performance in a John Coltrane tribute concert in New York. A year ago, he played the Estonian jazz festival, commemorating a controversial appearance of 30 years earlier, when the Iron Curtain still stood.


In general, Lloyd has nicely reentered the jazz atmosphere from which he intentionally retreated in the early ‘70s.

The tenor saxophonist burst upon the scene in the ‘60s in a group that included young pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It was one of the most popular groups in jazz history, but Lloyd went into a period of soul-searching and meditation--part of the reason he wound up on a lavish but woodsy hilltop property on the fringe of Montecito.

With the group he is bringing to the Lobero, Lloyd’s present and past merge. At the core of the band is the great and subtle drummer Billy Higgins, with whom Lloyd first played when he came out west from his hometown of Memphis.

Lloyd reconnected with Higgins in the last few years, first on an album, “Acoustic Masters,” on Atlantic, and then a series of live shows. Health problems besieged Higgins a couple of years ago, when he had a liver transplant, and Lloyd was among those giving benefit concerts. More recently, Lloyd and Higgins performed well-received duo concerts at the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

“Higgins seems like he’s minimal, like he’s not doing much, but he’s always rambling and always has these Latin beats that he plays,” said Lloyd, sitting in the spacious living room of his newly complete house.

The concert will also feature Bobo Stenson, a Swede who has received National Treasure status in his native country. For some of us, Stenson is one of the most inventive and musical--and underrated--living jazz pianists. A fan of Lloyd’s influential ‘60s band, Stenson has been playing with Lloyd for more than a decade.

“His playing is beautiful,” said Lloyd. “Fresh spring water from way up in the mountains. There is sensitivity. This boy is a poet. He can get very deep down, play some serious blues or whatever. I’m real happy with him.”

Lloyd has long been a player who likes to keep structure loose in his music and is open to modal experimentation. His best work comes with sympathetic and flexible players such as Higgins and Stenson, who allow for spontaneous diversions along the way. Lloyd offered a poetic depiction: “The way we play is like the analogy of a race car, a Ferrari going around these curves, and right at the point where the tail breaks loose and could slide off the cliff, that’s the edge where the good stuff happens.

“Playing just consonant and simple melodies, and only on the chord in a particular chord progression, without sweet and sour sauce, isn’t happening. Without dissonance, the consonance doesn’t have the uplift to it.”

* Charles Lloyd and friends, with Billy Higgins, Bobo Stenson and Darek Oles, Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Lobero Theater, 33 Canon Perdido St. in Santa Barbara. Tickets are $25; 963-0761.


ORGAN-IC SOUNDS: The distinctive organ group Zony Mash, led by the respected keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, lands at the Coach House in Santa Barbara on Wednesday. As heard on the saucy and sometimes weird soul-jazz album “Cold Spell” on Knitting Factory Works, this is a raucous and clever band, appealing to anyone interested in the evolution of the jazz organ group, a trend spearheaded by the popular Medeski, Martin and Wood.

* Zony Mash, Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Coach House, 110 Santa Barbara St. in Santa Barbara. Tickets are $7; (805) 962-8877.