The Upshot: Masterful stylistic survey of the saxman’s history from the beginning to the present, as a reminder not only of how long he has served the cause of jazz, but also how well he does it now and will continue to do in the future.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd has explored his distinctive vision of jazz as spiritual sacrament in a variety of contexts over the decades, but none more masterfully than in the format of the classic quartet. Though the 79-year-old hasn’t worked in that context in a while, he reconvened his New Quartet (pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Eric Harland) in 2015 for its first tour in several years – the results of which are documented on Passin’ Thru.
Appropriately, Lloyd opens the album with the first song of the first performance on the tour. “Dream Weaver,” first recorded fifty years ago with his first quartet, was the opening number for the band’s reunion show at the 2016 Montreux Jazz Festival. Upbeat, melodic and full of improvisatory fire, the tune zooms forward for nearly eighteen minutes, making its postbop sound fresh for a new century. The rest of the songs come from a 2016 show in Santa Fe, but are no less notable for not being taped at a major music festival. “Nu Blues” buzzes through traditional changes with a finger-popping rhythm and standout solos from Rogers and Harland, while “Tagore On the Delta” refreshes the form as Moran strums the strings inside his piano, Lloyd winds through the chords with earthy flute and Rogers grooves like a motherfucker. “How Can I Tell You” floats on a cloud of romantic balladry, fueled by the dreamy interplay between Lloyd and Moran. “Part 5 Ruminations,” an unused tune from the suite documented on 2015’s Wild Man’s Dance, connects Lloyd’s postbop foundation with the avant-garde leanings of his late 60s work.
Lloyd ends the album contrasting the old and the new. The title track first appeared on the same-titled 1962 album from drummer Chico Hamilton, for whom Lloyd served not only as saxist but also chief composer. The song’s insistent, danceable rhythm drives Moran to new heights of fleet-fingered keyboard runs, while Rogers and Harland once again prove why they’re the most vital rhythm section in jazz. Closing number “Shiva Prayer” is a brand new piece that pays tribute to a recently passed family friend, gently but passionately exploring a zone between meditative ballad and free jazz exploration. That one-two punch at the end summarizes the album’s purpose: to survey Lloyd’s history from the beginning to the present, as a reminder not only of how long Lloyd has served the cause of jazz, but also how well he does it now and will continue to do in the future.
DOWNLOAD: “Passin’ Thru,” “Tagore On the Delta,” “Dream Weaver”