When fans are considering the most treasured voices in jazz, Charles Lloyd’s name should quickly come to mind. An expressive saxophonist who was honored as a 2015 NEA Jazz Master on Monday, Lloyd burst onto the national scene in 1966 with the million-selling live album “Forest Flower” and eventually bridged the gap between jazz and psychedelic rock in subsequent dates with the Grateful Dead. However, fame and its many temptations proved too great, and in the ‘70s Lloyd retreated to a self-imposed retirement in Big Sur.
He returned to music in the mid-'80s and has since released a wealth of recordings on the ECM label, but here he returns to Blue Note for a rich and rewarding live album that stands with some of his finest work. Commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, and recorded in 2013, the album features a new lineup that continues Lloyd’s fondness for fresh sonic textures, previously exhibited in albums with tabla master Zakir Hussain and Greek contralto Maria Farantouri.
Here the dulcimer-like Hungarian cimbalom and the bowed lyra color the open-ended framework of a six-part suite. Amid a steady build of strings and flickering piano, the patiently unfurling “Flying Over the Odra Valley” gives way to “Gardner,” which boasts some fiery runs by Lloyd. A dedicated student of the Indian spiritual philosophy Vedanta, Lloyd’s music is often marked by a searching, introspective quality, and these seamlessly evolving tracks — all but one reaching beyond 10 minutes — are no exception.
With a back catalog that includes long stints with Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau and Jason Moran, Lloyd has exquisite taste in pianists, and Gerald Clayton continues that tradition here. He adds a deft, bluesy counterweight to “Lark,” which shifts from mourning to exaltation atop a spiritually charged turn from Lloyd. Another standout, “River,” carries an insistent rhythmic drive under Lloyd’s zigzagging runs and an intricate cascade from Miklós Lukács’ cimbalom. Even at 77, Lloyd’s wild side remains unbound.
“Wild Man Dance”