Although Thursday’s master class with Charles Lloyd was cancelled due to inclement weather, no amount of snow could prevent the tenor saxophonist and flautist from delivering an enthralling, spiritually engrossing jazz experience on Friday.
After the performance, Lloyd declined an opportunity for an extended interview with The Argus. He quipped, “My mind is like scrambled eggs after a concert!”
The insight yields an effective glimpse into Lloyd’s contemplative mind, especially in the context of Friday’s concert at Crowell Concert Hall. Lloyd performed in a constantly reflective and spiritually aware manner that triggered him to prance around the stage during his fellow musicians’ solos.
A brief introduction by Adjunct Associate Professor of Music Jay Hoggard included introductions for the members of the Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Lloyd himself, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland. Lloyd has previously been the leader of several other quartets, including The Charles Lloyd Quartet, the first jazz group from the United States in the Soviet Union, and the first jazz group to play at the famous Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Lloyd was also one of the first jazz artists to sell a million copies of a record (1966’s “Forest Flower”).
Lloyd made his entrance in a contemplative fashion, his hands clenched in a prayer-like position, ready to take his audience and his fellow musicians on a soul-searching journey that lasted no less than two hours.
Lloyd opened the performance with a subdued, emotive solo that immediately morphed into a free rubato piece. He showcased a spiritual mood akin to the later work of John Coltrane, with whom the Boston Globe, among others, has compared him. But Lloyd commanded with a soft tone, as opposed to Coltrane’s trademark brightness.
Yet Lloyd did not overshadow the rest of his quartet, and he did not intend to. The tightly-knit rhythm section interacted astonishingly with Lloyd as a backing unit, as individuals, and as fellow musicians. Moran, a critically acclaimed artist who has performed and/or recorded with the likes of Wayne Shorter, Lee Konitz, Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland, and many others, displayed his versatile talents throughout the performance. On Friday, he helped to establish an open mood for slow pieces as persuasively as he deployed bebop riffs at fast tempos.
Rogers showcased a similar prowess, especially during a series of extended solos. The venerable bassist, who has played with Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller, Dianne Reeves, and many others, seamlessly connected intricate phrases with more economical lines throughout the concert, often with a bit of humor. Unfortunately, he committed a false start before a bowed solo, dropping the bow, but he confidently shrugged it off and did not let it mar his night.
Perhaps the most energetic performance came from Harland, who played with an assertive versatility that permeated the concert. Whether as an accompanist or a soloist, Harland never failed to contribute creative and pulsating rhythms. He even pounded the drums with his bare hands at one point—a testament to his boundless creativity that has landed him opportunities to play and/or record with McCoy Tyner, Ravi Coltrane (John’s son), Holland, and the late Michael Brecker, among others.
Two of the highlights included renditions of “Forest Flower,” the title track from the famed 1966 album, and “Caroline, No.” The latter was an homage to the Beach Boys (vocalist Mike Love played with Lloyd in the 1970s).
Joining the quartet for three numbers was mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall-Moran, the pianist’s wife, who engaged audiences with her vocal contributions. In accordance with the tone of the show, Hall-Moran lent her vocals to two spiritual numbers, “Go Down Moses” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the latter of which provided for a transcendental, communal moment towards the end of the concert.
The mood was compounded upon for the final piece, during which Hall-Moran and Harland lent a vocal drone to accompany a recital of verses from the Bhagavad Gita, executed contemplatively and soulfully by Lloyd. It culminated in some final spiritual messages from Lloyd’s horn, and a loud stream of applause from the crowd. At the end of the night, both the audience and the musicians seemed enlightened.