January 29, 2016 (by Ken Pickering)
Vogue Theatre, Saturday, February 20, 2016
My first encounter with the music of saxophonist / flutist Charles Lloyd came at the tender young age of 17 in the living room of media director John Orysik’s family home in front of one of those super old school wooden console hi-fi systems circa '68/69. The album in question was Forest Flower – Lloyd’s breakthrough album recorded at the 1966 - Monterey Jazz Festival with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette; a helluva band by anybody’s standards. Probably John's first jazz album! Fantastically. all four of these jazz giants are still alive and well on this planet! Teenage years for John and myself and the beginning of a life long passion for jazz –those were the days when we used to spend all of our limited disposable income on a vinyl record habit that would become increasingly expensive over the years; records that provided valuable fodder for the numerous listening sessions and blindfold tests that we enjoyed together as we strived to become knowledgeable about jazz.
Memphis raised, (his closest childhood friend was the magnificent trumpeter Booker Little) one of his early teachers was the underrated pianist Phineas Newborn – by the mid 50’s Charles moved to Los Angeles and began his education in the clubs with Billy Higgins, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry among other west coast heavyweights.
Charles Lloyd was already well established in the jazz world of the 60’s becoming known through his engagement as musical director with Chico Hamilton (replacing Eric Dolphy in 1960 who left to join Charles Mingus) in a legendary band that included guitarist Gabor Szabo and bassist Albert Stinson (a personal favourite from that period is the Impulse album Passin’ Thru).
I’d forgotten that Lloyd had also worked with the soulful Cannonball Adderley for two years from 1964 (with brother Nat, Joe Zawinul, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes) an important period in his development as a leader running parallel to Lloyd’s first albums released in 1964 and 1965 for CBS – the second of those was masterful, the burning Of Course, Of Course with Tony Williams, Ron Carter and Gabor Szabo - reissued on Mosaic (and worthy of purchase, but I just checked and it seems the edition has run out - ebay time!) - still sounds fresh today!
In 1965 Lloyd formed his legendary quartet (see first paragraph) recording Dream Weaver and subsequently the historic Forest Flower (Atlantic Records) –– achieving a million in sales, a rarity in the annals of jazz! Crossover success was in the air – leading to the quartet’s appearance on billings (with Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Cream) at rock palaces such as the Fillmore and also to Lloyd guesting with bands ranging from the Byrds to the Doors. Even more amazing was the fact that here we had an acoustic jazz band that seemed to resonate with open-minded audiences in the heyday of the psychedelic 60’s before the electric / jazz rock / fusion era was ushered in by Miles Davis. Lloyd also performed in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in 1967.
Charles Lloyd was often mentioned along with the pervasive influence of the legendary John Coltrane in any discussion that focused on the new spirituality in jazz throughout that era. Their musical approach couldn’t be more different. While Coltrane was a force of nature (especially towards the end of his life), Lloyd on the other hand had a restrained lyrical quality to my ears that was more akin to a Lester Young influence via Stan Getz and possessing a sweet sound that oozed of liquid honey.
By the 70’s there was a slow fade – although continuing to record and do sessions (Beach Boys) he strangely became an afterthought on the jazz scene of the day, partly due to his relocation to Big Sur and personal issues that needed to be addressed.
In the 80’s Charles Lloyd resurfaced with a vengeance after the talented French pianist Michel Petrucciani arrived in Big Sur and inspired his return to performance and world touring that was cited by many critics as a major event in the 80’s jazz world.
A little known fact – Michel Petrucciani Trio was the first Coastal Jazz concert, presented at the Western Front in 1984 - an event a few of us remember quite well.
After surviving a medical scare in 1986 Lloyd hasn’t looked back. He continued to work with the best musicians around beginning with Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and Bobby McFerrin - quickly leading to a long-term association with ECM from 1989 beginning with Fish Out of Water and a series of albums that included many of the best and brightest musicians of our time; Brad Mehldau, Dave Holland, Billy Hart, Eric Harland, Zakir Hussain, Billy Higgins, Geri Allen and John Abercrombie.
Charles Lloyd speaks about his last quartet, together through most of the 2000's with Jason, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland on this video clip. Still at the top of his game, Charles Lloyd was a hit at the 2014 festival - he’s touring in support of his 2015 Blue Note release “Wild Man Dance”. His new touring quartet includes the estimable Gerald Clayton – piano, Joe Sanders – bass and the fabulous Eric Harland – drums.