His first album for new label Blue Note after decades on ECM, this is a live affair and a new line-up in his band for Charles Lloyd ushering in significant change.
Recorded at Polish festival Jazztopad in November 2013 this is very different to Hagar’s Song the hippie-jazz great’s last album dating back to 2013, the year Lloyd turned 75, which was a duo affair released nine months before this new album was recorded.
Filled completely by the six-part suite Wild Man Dance and featuring among its personnel a new quartet: pianist Gerald Clayton replacing Jason Moran; bassist Joe Sanders in instead of Reuben Rogers; and drummer Gerald Cleaver taking the place of Eric Harland augmented by Greek lyra player Sokratis Sinopoulos (familiar from 2011 release Athens Concert) and cymbalom player Miklos Lucaks completing the personnel.
Intense and taking its time to boil on the long opener ‘Flying Over the Odra Valley’ (a reference to the valley of the river that runs through Wrocław where the festival is sited) ‘Gardner’ flows seamlessy onwards, a chance for Clayton’s gently cascading touch to assert itself, his contribution taking a while for anyone familiar with the New Quartet to get used to especially given the poetic abstractions Moran brought to the sound on the magisterial Mirror in particular.
Clayton takes his most absorbing solo at the beginning of ‘Lark’ and again embarks on a scene-setting foray on ‘River’ so there is a certain shape to the middle section of the album where a sense of intimacy is matched on this track by huge rapport developing between bass, piano and drums, Lloyd picking away at notes gradually playing free against the big tone of the bass, with a glorious Coltranian section hitting you slap bang between the eyes. Easily for me the highlight of a sometimes patchy album ‘River’ and the title track itself are probably worth purchasing the album for alone, Cleaver slotting in well and pushing hard like Elvin Jones, that rolling thunder making the Philharmonic Hall audience forget themselves and simply applaud.
Most of the tracks are hugely long (the shortest just shy of eight-and-a-half minutes!) although with Lloyd particularly in a live setting usually the longer the better even if not everything here quite transfers to listening at home (the nagging feeling persists that it would have been even better to experience the music live in the Hall). Yet the more folkloric ‘Invitation’ thrives on the momentum built up by ‘River’, a mysterious atmosphere conjured up at the beginning the piece unfolding almost into a lament.
The joyful title track of the suite and the album itself is kept to last, begun by Clayton playing solo teasing out music box-like euphony, with romantic motifs and a chordal grace gradually sweetening into a hymn-like space just still enough for Lloyd to curve the silences in the air around him when he comes in on this 15-minute epic of a piece injecting a lot of drama complete with a sense of Hungarian mystery. Stephen Graham
Released on Monday 13 April