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Charles Lloyd / Maria Farantouri Athens Concert Review

Live. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A set which finds the reedsman’s core band in a completely unfamiliar setting.

Martin Longley 2011

This is an atypical release for both Charles Lloyd and ECM Records. The Memphis reedsman’s recent output has been getting ever more abstract and globally attuned, revolving around a highly individual gathering of intimately-bonded sidemen.

This double-CD live set finds Lloyd’s core band in a completely unfamiliar setting, collaborating with the Greek singer Maria Farantouri and two of her regular musicians. Lloyd is unsurprisingly coerced towards a very linear form, and the entire band is playing at the service of the songs.

In 2002, Lloyd met Farantouri in his Santa Barbara stomping ground, having only performed in Greece a few months earlier. When he returned the following year, he invited her to collaborate. During the ensuing decade, he returned on a virtually annual basis.

This 2010 gig was recorded at the foot of the Acropolis, which is hard to surpass in terms of evocative locations. Lloyd’s accustomed team of Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Harland (drums) are joined by Socratis Sinopoulos (lyra) and Takis Farazis (additional piano/arrangements).

The centrepiece of the concert is its three-part Greek Suite, which spreads across the two discs, interspersed with shorter works. Farantouri began to establish her reputation as a teenager, performing with Mikis Theodorakis. Two of his songs are included in the concert.

This recording is accessible to a non-jazz audience, but might alienate some of Lloyd’s hardcore followers. The governing style hovers between folkloric and classical, finding Lloyd in his softest, most supportive state. The velvety flutter of his tenor saxophone is paramount, soloing as an equal voice, setting up a dialogue with Farantouri.

Lloyd frequently ends up redeeming a tune with some dexterous soloing, detailed in its language. Parts of the suite are too struttingly anthemic, and the best stretches are those that harbour an underplayed stasis. Sinopoulos shines out with his lyra solo on Lloyd’s Prayer.

In his sleeve essay, Lloyd compares Farantouri to Billie Holiday, but surely these singers stand at completely opposite poles in both their approach and general sonic textures. Farantouri has a somewhat plummy, stentorian tone that turns her into a very formal interpreter. The songs are poised and minimal, but the Greek veteran has a tendency to hold her notes for too long. Ultimately, personal vocal preferences might impede some listeners in their enjoyment of this set. We’re talking borderline Eurovision.

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