Charles Lloyd's "Modern Sounds In Country and Jazz"

At 80 Charles Lloyd can musically pretty much do whatever the hell he wants, though he did likewise at age 30 in 1966 when he fronted a group featuring 21 year old Keith Jarrett, 24 year old Jack DeJohnette and at 31 the group’s “elder statesman” Cecil McBee, and produced the classic Forest Flower (Atlantic SD 1473), recorded live at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Lloyd didn’t appear to be aiming that music beyond the jazz enthusiast audience, but with a psychedelic flourish it nonetheless soft-landed among the scattered flower power hippie tribes.

As producer George Avakian wrote in his annotation to Love In (Atlantic SD 1481)—an album recorded at The Fillmore in San Francisco four months after Monterey and obviously aimed at the rock audience, “The message of Charles Lloyd’s music reaches many people who normally never listen to jazz.”

That is as true today as it was then, to which the two albums he’s made with The Marvels attest, though on these— especially this one with the addition of Lucinda Williams’s vocals on half of the album’s ten tracks—Lloyd’s outreach is more pointed. This does not feel like a jazz album though Lloyd’s contributions are nothing but.

With Williams’ long time collaborators Greg Leisz on pedal steel and Bill Frisell on Telecaster, the trio’s knit is already tight. Drummer Eric Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers, who have played for many years in a Lloyd-led quartet with pianist Jason Moran, further anchor the group.

Lloyd hovers over all, often delicately fluttering and pulling the sound skyward, sometimes sounding like the screech of a subway car on a sharp turn (as opposed to a gravel road), while at other times driving it into rich, deep seated, atmospheric, incantations.

Clearly this is not a jazz album—once you commit to pedal steel all jazz bets are off (though the title tune evolves into an “In A Silent Way” vibe) — yet Lloyd plays jazz, always in synch with the bluesy, often deep and sometimes mysterious surroundings. When you get to the tune “Vanished Gardens” hold tight for Leisz’s sudden eruptive “Also Sprach Zarathustra” slide.

You could start the listening on any of the four sides and all would be fine. It’s not up to a lowly reviewer to question the track order and side A’s opener “Defiant” led by Lloyd’s soulful incantation is a great place to start, but consider side C for your first listen. It opens with Tommy Wolf’s oft-covered dirge-y “Ballad of The Sad Young Men” spotlighting Frisell’s Chet Atkins-like melodic lines lubricated by Leisz’s slides. Lloyd enters, gracefully soaring above and quivering below the strings to produce a serene, supple beauty that defines The Marvels’ sound.

That’s followed by “We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around”, Williams’s “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall”-like hymnal, inspirational, civil rights anthem that opens with a Lloyd solo that sounds straight from the synagogue until it takes a gospel turn and Williams enters with a searing vocal. The pace is appropriately measured, starring Harland’s vital drumming. An album highlight for sure.

The slinky side ender “Blues For Langston And LaRue” with Lloyd on Alto flute is a Southern Fried full length riff of a Blue Note number that relieves the down of the other two tunes and leaves you with the energy to get up and change sides.

If you insist upon following the prescribed side order, you’ll start with “Defiant”, which begins with a melancholic prelude that until it gets the drumbeat sounds more like an ending than a beginning. That’s followed by Williams’ “Dust”, based on her father’s arid mortality poem that taunts “Even your thoughts are dust”. It’s a side-ender that might leave your stylus riding around the circular lead out groove driveway for more than a few spins.

Okay enough “play by play” other than to advise eventually getting to the finale, a version of Jimi’s “Angel” sung by Williams backed by Lloyd and Frisell that ends the album on an inspirational note.

As for the sound, the recording was engineered and mixed by Michael C. Ross at East West, which once was Bill Putnam’s Western Recorders. Ross’s work should be familiar to most AnalogPlanet readers. Bernie Grundman mastered the set and cut lacquers for the double LP set. Joe Harley—another name that should be familiar to AP readers— gets a “Tone Poet” credit.

He’s long worked with Lloyd and Ross, giving both sound advice—literally. And more recently he’s been hired by Blue Note’s Don Was to oversee the label’s sonic output, especially on reissues.

No, the recording was not done to tape, but yes, the sound is sensational. It seem that the latest version of Pro-Tools in the hands of people who know good sound, working in a great studio with the right microphones and board can get the sound you like from digital—not “good for digital”, but “sensational”. Create your own sonic checklist and it’s likely you’ll agree. Instrumental textures and timbres are believable, transparency is exceptional, staging is studio deep and wide and if you’ll appreciate the warmth, richness and delicacy where appropriate and the hard transient attack where that should occur.

I’m not saying this record is “you’ll play it so many times you’ll wear it out” great. But that’s only because records don’t wear out!

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avanti1960's picture

of my local record store and was surprised yet interested in the eccentric collaboration between these two artists. The results of adventurous, somewhat odd pairings can work really well by giving us something new and ground breaking- or they can be complete disasters. Thank you for finding with the former! I look forward to hearing it.

mschlack's picture

I also love this album. I have typically reserved my LP purchases for music that was originally recorded in analog. I wonder what you think the benefit of an analog version of a good digital recording is over a high-res digital one through a good digital playback system. I was recently surprised to hear a Kris Delmhorst LP (she's a local Boston fave singer writer with a very warm voice) that was much better than the CD, so I'm not saying it doesn't happen. But I do wonder why it would happen. And how often. Interested in your thoughts on that. I have the hdtracks 96/24 version of Vanished Gardens and it sounds pretty great to me.

cundare's picture

What a brilliant and fresh concept, and so well executed! Most smazing is how rich and sweet Lloyd's tone remains at his advanced age. This album will be in heavy rotation at my place this week. Thanks for the heads-up, Mikey.