Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams - Vanished Gardens

Label: Blue Note Records, 2018

Personnel - Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, flute; Lucinda Williams: vocals; Bill Frisell: guitar; Greg Leisz: pedal steel guitar and dobro; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

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Exceptional saxophonist Charles Lloyd reconnects with The Marvels - Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar and dobro, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums - in order to release their conjoined sophomore album, Vanished Gardens, on the Blue Note imprint. For this work, the band summoned singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams, who lends her voice to half the tunes on the ten-track album.

Among the songwriting credits for this work we find not only Lloyd and Williams but also Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, and Tommy Wolf/Fran Landesman. The latter’s “Ballad of the Sad Men”, a tune popularized by Roberta Flack and instrumentally rendered by Keith Jarrett, is amiably cooked with Lloyd jumping in halfway to blow our minds with his sui generis vocabulary. This strategy is also put into effect on “Monk’s Mood”, a marvelous duet with Frisell, who prepares the ground for the saxophonist’s musical enlightenment with a relaxed introduction. This song is the closest they get to jazz since the project’s philosophy falls more into a blend of country, folk, blues and rock genres.

Take Lloyd’s brand new “Defiant”, for example. Molded as a country jazz song, it explores the lyrical quality of the melody with reflexive intuition, taking us to vast green landscapes swept by a smooth, breezy wind. If the sturdiness of Rogers’ bass lines feels great with the guitars soaring atop, then the title track pushes us to more explorative adventures. An effect-infused guitar riff borrows some influence from traditional Japanese and electronic music alike, while the band interlocks it with a country-rock tinge. Lloyd breaks free with avant-garde ambiguity and flanked by a compound of stellar riffs and voicings on top of a static rhythm. After flickering guitar waves and a rhythmic decrescendo, he concludes the tune alone.

Sporting interesting timbral idiosyncrasies, Williams is confident and strong on “Dust”, an original in which she shows off brittle and compact tones in the lower and higher registers, respectively. While she sings with deep sentiment, we occasionally hear Lloyd’s fills in the background. He phrases with elliptical elasticity, fervor and sophistication. Also from Ms. Williams’ repertoire we have “Ventura”, a Tom Waits-esque 4/4 pop song; “We’ve Come Too Far To Turn Around”, a 3/4 country pop tune with introductory Eastern sounds by Lloyd; and “Unsuffer Me”, which recalls the demonstrative country rock style of Patti Smith, here delivered with a bluesy feel.

The album is complete with one of those magnificent flute-driven blues by Lloyd, “Blues For Langston and LaRue”, and a soulful rendition in trio of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel”, beautifully sung by Williams and adapted to befit her style.

Drawing inspiration from the roots of American music, the band effortlessly coat these songs with a charming charisma. With The Marvels establishing an unshakable bridge between styles, Lloyd/Williams collaboration is indeed successful.

        Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Defiant ► 03 - Vanished Gardens ► 09 - Monk’s Mood