Blowing along for the ride

72-year-old saxophonist/flutist Charles Lloyd has had a long and illustrious career and has mixed it up with some of the greats of the blues and jazz pantheon

May 28, 2010 17:21
3 minute read.
Clive Lloyd quartet

Clive Lloyd quartet 311. (photo credit: courtesy)


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There is something about Charles Lloyd that exudes a larger-than-life feeling. At 72 years old, the saxophonist is one of the most durable jazz artists around, and his recorded output runs at a steady album every 18 months or so. His performances are often a leader tour de force. His last concert in Israel, at the 2004 Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, had the audiences on their feet as Lloyd alternated between tenor saxophone, flute and all manner of percussion instruments – enjoying a jig or two in the process.

Lloyd’s upcoming concert here, Saturday at 9:30 p.m. at the ICC in Jerusalem as part of the Israel Festival, sees him team up with long-time colleague drummer-percussionist Eric Harland, pianist Jason Moran and bassist Reuben Rogers.

Besides his trademark airy saxophone arpeggios, Lloyd adopts a sort of go-with-the-flow ethos. Thus, when asked what he and the quartet plan to play here, the response was typically enigmatic. “It is often a mystery until the first note comes out of my horn,” says Lloyd. “I often think about it in advance, and then as I am walking onto the stage and feel the vibration of the audience, I could end up playing something entirely different. The exchange of energy that takes place between the musicians and the audience is a very important factor in any concert. And each time I have performed in Israel – I think it is only twice – I have had the most amazing and sensitive audiences.”

Lloyd has been through quite a few lineups over the past 45 or so years. In the 1960s he shared the bandstand with now stellar pianist Keith Jarrett, with whom he recorded the smash hit album Forest Flower in 1966, and there were more successful synergies over the next couple of decades. Lloyd took a time out from jazz during the 1980s but came back with a vengeance and reeled off a string of acclaimed albums with the ECM label.

He and Harland have worked together for some years, both in the current quartet and the intriguing Sangam trio, together with iconic Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain. Lloyd says he’s delighted with both bands. “This is my best quartet. We are family on and off the stage, so there is always a feeling of support and simpatico – but musically for me, it elevates and expands with each performance.”

He attributes his confluence with Harland to something akin to divine intervention. “I met Eric shortly after Master [longtime Lloyd cohort drummer Billy] Higgins passed away in 2001. I had a date at the Blue Note in New York City, and Eric was playing with the midnight jam band. I knew that Higgins had  sent him. Higgins had said he ‘would always be with me,’ so I recognized Eric immediately.”

Lloyd is also a firm believer in proffering music to the public without preconceptions and just allowing the listener to get on with it. “We should not underestimate the hearts and minds of the individual,” he declares. “I think people are exposed to a deep experience, and our music is an experience that transcends language barriers. Racial and religious differences do not exist in the music. It is a very high form of expression that can touch the heart directly.”

When it comes to cultural divides Lloyd is, perhaps, better qualified than most to advocate openness and highlight the bonding values among people from different backgrounds. “My ancestors were African, Irish, Native American (Choctaw) and Mongolian. I am not so different from many who were born in the South of the United States, perhaps with the exception of the Mongolian part.

Different or no, expect to be taken on a trip at Lloyd’s show on Saturday night.

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