Charles Lloyd mixes protest songs, spirituals and ballads in an eloquent, heartfelt...
Peter Marsh 2002
It wasn't until 1990 that Charles LLoyd started recording for ECM; coaxed out of retirement by pianist Michel Petrucciani, it seemed fitting that the tenor player should eventually sign for Manfred Eicher's label. After all, Lloyd's mix of John Coltrane derived modal jazz mixed with influences from Indian musics which gave him such popularity in the late 60s (and attracted a fair share of bile from an elitist jazz press) probably proved an inspiration to many of those on the label's roster; plus his quartet was also a showcase for the talents of the young Keith Jarrett.
This is Lloyd's 9th album for the label, and reunites him with drummer Billy Hart as well as bassist Larry Grenadier and guitarist John Abercrombie. Replacing Brad Mehldau at the piano is the wonderful Geri Allen (making her ECM debut), while Marc Johnson shares bass duties with Grenadier.
The album was recorded a few months after September 11 (the band were booked in at New York's Bottom Line at the time) and unsurprisingly is coloured by Lloyd's personal response to that event. It's an album mainly of spirituals and ballads, ranging from "Amazing Grace" to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", a brave reworking of Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count", plus a fair few Lloyd originals. The mood throughout is meditative, though not downbeat; Lloyd and his band balance the reflective nature of much of the material with their warm, optimistic playing.
As usual, Lloyd gives lots of space to his fellow players. Abercrombie is edgily lyrical, bluesy and immediately distinctive, occasionally leaning on the distortion for a spot of bite, though he shines most on ballads like the sumptuous "Angel Oak" and "Rabo de Nube". The endlessly adaptable Allen's rippling, limpid piano provides sensitive accompaniment and some lovely, concise improvising, particularly on Lloyd's hymnal "Nocturne", and the closing "Prayer, The Crossing", where Hart lets rip and the pianist unleashes a playful, dazzling solo.
Lloyd's tenor is luxuriously rich throughout; sticking mostly to the upper register of the horn and peppering his phrases with sweet quicksilver flurries, he makes a beautiful noise. There's asincerity and unashamed search for beauty in his playing that recalls the Coltrane of 'Dear Lord' and the tenderness of Ben Webster. Though Coltrane is an abiding influence (especially on the saxophonist's arrangement of "Wayfaring Stranger"), Lloyd's no mere copyist; he's been around long enough to find his own voice and sing with it.
There are a few weak spots; the blues "East Virginia, West Memphis" doesn't really catch fire and the taragato solo "Hafez, Shattered Heart" seems a bit out of place here, while "What's Going On" really needs to be sung (and then preferably by Marvin Gaye) rather than played. That aside, Lift Every Voice is astrong record; heartfelt, often poignant yet deeply uplifting. Worth hearing.
Like This? Try These:
Charles Lloyd - Hyperion with Higgins
John Abercrombie - Cat 'n' Mouse
Tomasz Stanko - The Soul of Things