“Charles is playing really beautiful,” Ornette Coleman says, in the documentary film “The Monk and the Mermaid”. “He’s expressing the qualities of what we experience. Trying to make a contribution to the quality of life, to do with knowledge.” The knowledge, experience, or wisdom conveyed through Lloyd’s tender saxophone soliloquies has drawn great musicians to him over the decades, and contributed to a reputation as one of the most insightful band leaders in all of jazz. Those qualities are reflected once more in “Mirror”, which is perhaps as succinct a portrait of Charles Lloyd’s music as can be embraced by a single disc.
“Charles approaches the music with such openness”, pianist Jason Moran said recently. “I like playing with leaders who let you bring what you’ve got to the table, and interpret the music however you’d like. Charles is a great promoter of free-thinking music, and letting it develop on the spot.”
“Mirror” is the first studio album by the Lloyd-Moran-Rogers-Harland unit and it features beautiful, transformed versions of favourites including both Lloyd originals and tunes Charles has made his own over the years. There is a pair of Thelonious Monk tunes, “Ruby, My Dear” and “Monk’s Mood”, as well as hymns and traditionals including “Go Down Moses”, “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, and “The Water Is Wide”. Lloyd covers Brian Wilson’s’ “Caroline, No” (the saxophonist guested on several Beach Boys albums in the 70s, including the classic “Surf’s Up”), and plays an achingly lovely version of the standard “I Fall In Love Too Easily”. Lloyd originals include “Desolation Sound”, “Mirror”, “Tagi” (which includes a Bhagavad Gita-inspired spoken-word meditation by Lloyd) and “Being and Becoming”.
There is plenty of Lloyd’s graceful, mellifluous and poetic tenor sax: We also get to hear some of his rarely-showcased alto saxophone, the instrument that Billy Higgins called Charles’ “secret weapon”.
Many critics have opined that Lloyd’s “New Quartet”, with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland may be the best of all his groups. The quartet’s previous release in this line-up, the live-recorded “Rabo de Nube”, met with across-the-board approval and was voted #1 album of the year in both the Critics and Readers Polls of Jazz Times.
The band plays superbly. Interaction between Jason Moran and the elastic rhythm section of Harland and Rogers is agile and alert in every moment. None of these three players, completely in tune with Lloyd’s way of working, was born when Charles had his idiomatic breakthrough with “Forest Flower” in 1967. Moran recalls that his father encouraged him to listen to “Forest Flower” when he was just starting to check out jazz, and the album was part of the soundtrack of his childhood.
Reuben Rogers was born in the Virgin Islands and grew up listening to calypso and reggae as well as jazz, exposure that seems to have impacted on the lyrical dancing swing of his bass playing. He works exceptionally well with Harland, exploring loose grooves behind Lloyd ’s solos, and speaks of the joy of “being in the music in the moment,” when the Lloyd band is improvising collectively, “without any worries, just giving it all.” A much sought after sideman, Reuben has also worked extensively with Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman, Dianne Reeves and more.
Eric Harland is increasingly regarded as one of the most important contemporary jazz drummers. In addition to his work with Lloyd in the quartet and in the Sangam trio (with Zakir Hussain) he has played and recorded with McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Greg Osby, Dave Holland and many others.
The release of “Mirror” is accompanied by extensive touring beginning on the US West Coast at the end of September with dates at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California. In October the band plays Canada. In November they head for Europe, with concerts in France, Spain, the UK, Italy, Germany, and Poland. Full tour schedule soon at www.ecmrecords.com.
The French documentary “The Monk and the Mermaid: The Song of Charles Lloyd” (made by Fara C. and Giuseppe De Vecchi) – which includes footage of both the quartet and Lloyd’s Sangam trio as well as interviews with Lloyd, Moran, Rogers, Harland, Zakir Hussain, Lloyd’s wife and co-producer Dorothy Darr (also seen on the front cover of “Mirror”), Herbie Hancock and Ornette Coleman – is currently at the film festivals.