Artist: Charles Lloyd & The Marvels
Album: I Long To See You
Label: Blue Note
Release Date: 01/15/2016
Iconic saxophonist Charles Lloyd keeps exploring as he approaches his 78th birthday. This release, his second upon his return to Blue Note, pairs him with two extraordinary guitarists who often play together, Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz (lap and pedal steel). Together with his quartet cohorts, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, the quintet interprets several familiar and traditional folk songs and revisits some Lloyd originals. The blend of instruments is especially compelling, although the album plays in a very restrained way. There are several instances where it slides into the edgier vein I was hoping for, having listened to several recent Lloyd releases. He is every bit as creative and capable of moving into that varied, unpredictable soloing approach as he was in his younger years, but we only catch glimpses here, except on one new tune, the 16 minute “Barche Lamsel.” Although it builds slowly, you experience Lloyd’s ease of moving through blues, Eastern and straight-ahead styles in both his sax and flute solos.
This could just easily be a Bill Frisell record, and that may be the cause of so much restraint– each being a bit timid about stealing the spotlight. Or it could just be the nature of the song selections. How adventurous can you get on a tune like “Shenandoah,” for example? It’s interesting that the label chose to promote “Of Course, Of Course” as the single. It’s the title of his 1964 album and features Lloyd on flute. “La Llornoa,” a more recent Lloyd original from his 2009 ECM release, Mirror, is a showcase for all five players, especially Harland’s drumming. It should go without saying, that whenever Frisell and Leisz are aboard, you’ll get an array of textures, loops and ethereal sounds.
The album gets some additional punch from two excellent vocalists. Norah Jones gives a tender reading to “You Are So Beautiful.” As Lloyd comments, “For a long time in my mind’s ear I could hear Norah’s warmth caressing the lyrics. She became an extraordinary, beautiful sixth instrument in the rendition of the song.” Willie Nelson adds his unmistakable touch to the anti-war tune, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.”
This is as accessible as any jazz album can be. If you’re a Frisell and/or Leisz fan, you’ll love the way they support Lloyd. If you’re new to Lloyd, you have a deep catalog to explore. After all, his first group included Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. Feel free to go back that far, but it’s probably easier to just start with his previous Blue Note release, 2015’s Wild Man Dance. Lloyd’s comment in reference to that album applies here as well: “I am still searching to find the sound. It is my path. I call myself a ‘sound seeker.’ The deeper I dive into the ocean of sound, I find there is still deeper and further to go.” Let’s hope we can enjoy Lloyd’s restless journey for many more years.
– Jim Hynes