Saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd is one of the most curious figures in jazz, and this release of several radio broadcasts from Lloyd’s first flowering in 1966 underlines the curiosity. After a fairly standard apprenticeship playing in popular early ‘60s jazz groups led by drummer Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley, Lloyd found himself a piano trio and formed his own quartet. On Live 1966, you can hear the quartet on its own and with the European Orchester Kurt Edelhagen.
The trio that joined forces with Lloyd consisted of the pianist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Cecil McBee, all young players at the time and all soon to become major forces in the music. The band shot to the kind of stardom that could have come about only at that moment. They played both straight-ahead, melodic jazz and a somewhat milder variant on the kind of yearning energy music that John Coltrane had pioneered with his early ‘60s quartet. But Lloyd’s quartet attracted big audiences of young people, headlined outdoor festivals and seemed to capture some of the same moment that would be owned by Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. There was something groovy about this band that the kids were digging.
Lloyd’s band had its own identity and some engaging tunes, but there is also an argument Lloyd was an Elvis figure. That is, he was a very talented guy who heard, varied and watered down (somewhat) the true innovations of an African-American pioneer and, naturally, found more popular (and financial) success along the way. This is a reductive argument, and one that ignores not only the length and detail of Lloyd’s career (he is still playing today) but also the details of ‘60s music. But it is true that one would be hard-pressed to listen to “East of the Sun” on this set without hearing a debt to Coltrane in ALL CAPS. It is there is Lloyd’s tone and vocabulary on tenor saxophone and also in the way that the band and performance are arranged: a long tenor solo that ventures from expressive to free, followed by a piano feature.
For those who have followed Keith Jarrett’s 45-year career, his solos will often be more interesting than those of the leader. On “East of the Sun,” this is manifestly the case. Jarrett simply doesn’t sound like anyone but himself, and as he goes from tasty to melodically arcing to wildly free you always hear the development of an original voice. Lloyd seems so enraptured by Coltrane’s spell that he simply isn’t there yet, despite being the leader.
“Song My Lady Sings,” a flowing waltz, opens with just the original trio, and it feels like it belongs on a different (better?) recording. This is because there is no wrestling with Lloyd’s Coltrane thing. Jarrett owns the tune, then Lloyd comes in and the sheets of sound, the nasal tone and the meditative use of pedal tones begin. The tune ends with DeJohnette rumbling as Lloyd zones you out.
The quartet’s “hit” was “Forest Flower,” and it’s here, 18 minutes in length. It’s an engaging theme with a Latin groove that has release moments of four-on-the-floor swing. Jarrett’s solo is first, and his back-and-forth play with the rhythm section as the groove changes is exemplary. Lloyd solos melodically and to a climax, giving way to McBee and DeJohnette in playful dialogue. All of this is fairly conventional jazz of the time. It is the coda that intrigues. Lloyd blows for a bit but then cedes the stage to the trio again, allowing Jarrett to play an astonishingly inventive solo over a simple harmonic pattern that develops into a calypso. This kills the groove, unfortunately, because Lloyd isn’t Sonny Rollins.
Yes, the suggestion is that, on his biggest hit, Lloyd was simply channeling the other dominant tenor saxophonist of that era. Even still, “Forest Flower” is a joy to listen to. Its rhythmic pliancy and the melodic invention of Jarrett can take you far enough that the sense of imitation doesn’t kill it.
The other features for tenor saxophone here are mostly Coltrane-in-Translation, particularly the several versions of “Love Ship,” which was a tune featured on the quartet’s 1966 album Dream Weaver. “Tribal Sun” is bopping theme for tenor, and “Mississippi Blues” sets out a craggy Trane-ish theme as a quick set-ender.
If you want to hear the Charles Lloyd imagination without so much Coltrane influence, it is the flute pieces that may get you there. “Dream Weaver,” the title track, is an atmospheric slow groove with a healthy dose of percussive interest. On flute, Lloyd not only avoids aping Coltrane, but he is in much better balance with the rest of the band, blending into the flow of an exceptional group. “Autumn Sequence” (also from Dream Weaver) puts a swinging “Autumn Leaves” into a medley with an impressionistic opening and a slow, hinting-at-baroque counterpoint ending that segues into squiggling, joyous free playing. “Island Blues” is a backbeat boogaloo that also starts with just the trio. Lloyd’s flute theme is played low and airy, with a hip subtlety that can explode into faster runs on a moment’s notice.
Live 1966, weirdly, catches Lloyd at peak popularity but in a trough in terms of originality. In the ‘70s, he would leave jazz to play with the Beach Boys and then expand into other genres of music. For the rhythmic section alone, however, this album is worth your attention.
1 Love Ship 6:42
2 Love Song To A Baby 13:24
3 East Of The Sun 6:40
4 Tribal Sun 7:19
5 Mississippi Blues 1:03
Charles Lloyd – tenor saxophone, flute
Keith Jarrett – piano
Cecil McBee – bass
Jack DeJohnette – drums