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.


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

Charles Lloyd New Quartet - Passin Thru

Label/Year: Blue Note, 2017

Lineup – Charles Lloyd: saxophone, flute; Jason Moran: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

At the age 79, spectacular saxophonist Charles Lloyd keeps wielding the same impactful language and elegant expressiveness that assured him a prominent place in the history of jazz.

The long-awaited successor of the amazing Wild Man Dance (Blue Note, 2015), Passin’ Thru, encompasses old and new material in a total of seven ravishing long tracks that match very much his own style.

The album is another Blue Note Records outing and marks the 10th anniversary of Mr. Lloyd's new quartet, now with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums.

Lloyd re-examines the highly celebrated “Dream Weaver”, first recorded in 1969, with spiritual incisiveness and renewed harmonic intensity. His dramatic timbral interchanges combine wonderfully with Moran’s flurries in a mystifying, beautiful intro, where Rogers and Harland remain focused and connected. After a while, one can easily notice that catchy riff and seductive rhythm that made this tune so known and gracious in its sparkling danceability. 

Part 5, Ruminations”, one of the new compositions, feels quite loose as the quartet adapts to an unsettled route that makes a gradual detour into a pleasant swing. This ultimate cheery mood galvanizes the bandleader and Moran for another pair of striking improvisations.

The remaining new compositions take different orientations under Lloyd’s monstrously compelling power of speech, which varies from contemplative and affectionate to exultant and entrancing. The newest creations are “Nu Blues”, which carries a positive bop vibe due to its musical nature, “Tagore on the Delta”, which is nothing else than a decorative, far-flung, groovy fusion marked by the lightness of Lloyd’s flute over strummed piano strings, funk-oriented bass licks, and undemanding percussion attacks, and the closing piece, “Shiva Prayer”, a poignant meditation written for the late Judith McBean that features wet mallet drumming, deep bowed bass, and dreamy piano voicings.

Completing the roster, we have “How Can I Tell You”, an optimistic, heartfelt ballad that haunts, gazes at the infinite, and rejoices all at the same time, and "Passin' Thru", introduced by Rogers’ expressive pizzicato and exhibiting brisk melodies over a frantic rhythm. The former was first recorded on the album Discovery! in 1964 while the latter saw the daylight in 1963 when Lloyd was still a member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet.

Equal to himself, Lloyd never ceases to amaze. He takes advantage of the strong bonds established by the members of the quartet and throws in his limitless instrumental resources to envelop the world with bliss. Insightful, exciting, prayerful, genuine… ladies and gentlemen… my dearest saxophonist, Charles Lloyd, has a great new album. 

         Grade  A

         Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Dream Weaver ► 04 - How Can I Tell You ► 05 - Tagore on the Delta