|Charles Lloyd has mesmerized audiences for decades.|
He connected with massive rock audiences in the 1960s, but it was through the lyricism and open-endedness of his music, not through the kind of high-octane outreach that borders on pandering. We won't make jazz that will furrow your brow, he seemed to promise.
That seems to be his approach still in 2017, as the 79-year-old musical guru from Memphis tours with the Marvels, an ensemble fully in tune with his spacious, enveloping approach to making jazz that endures. Maybe Lloyd's floating discourses sounded even better with cannabis once upon a time, but who needs artificial stimuli when a master is at work, rooting his unique message in many years of pertinent communication?
The personnel of the Marvels amounts pretty close to an all-star aggregation. Yet nothing heard in the Carmel concert was really about stardom, despite the presence of Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal-steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on electric bass, and Eric Harland on drums. Sure, there were solos, with some predisposition, naturally, to showcase the leader. But in a real sense, Lloyd and the Marvels are an incarnation on their own terms of the Weather Report watchword: Everybody solos, and nobody solos.
The music exploited the guitar-rich texture of the band without overloading it. When it comes to the fusion label, the outreach is more toward genre than instrumentation. What I heard at this concert (regrettably, I arrived late) had the quality and straightforward address of folk music, principally from the Caribbean and the Southern U.S. Pedal steel is of course heavily associated with country music, but the band's grasp proved to be unconstrained by generic limits.
The knock on Lloyd used to be that he played tenor in a kind of watered-down John Coltrane manner. This description woefully shortchanges his individuality: He gets around the horn with some of the "sheets-of-sound" breadth of Coltrane, but the sound and the dynamic variety is his own. The ornamentation is fluttery and deftly applied. He measures out intensity judiciously, and doesn't go in for honking, squeaking or split tones.
You can relax as you listen to him, which doesn't mean the effect is bland. Lloyd doesn't sound like anybody else, really. His style partners particularly well with Frisell, a master of atmosphere who calmly and consistently rejects placement in any particular bag.
The other players proved equally compatible. Rogers avoided funky-bass cliches, interacting smoothly with Frisell and giving unforced stature, sweetness, and clarity to the music's foundation. Leisz applied the keening, flexible line of his instrument subtly but with crucial import as a lyrical complement to the leader. Harland could lay out a groove or become almost painterly in the way he used his drums and cymbals. And a further grace note to the band's sound was Lloyd's deep-dyed songfulness when he picked up the alto flute.
The Marvels: For once, a band name that may be an understatement.