Charles Lloyd tenor saxophone, Tibetan Oboe
Bobo Stenson piano
Anders Jormin double-bass
Billy Hart drums
Recorded December 1996 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
“Do not look at my outward form, but take what is in my hand.”
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the cover photo of Charles Lloyd’s Canto shows a man who takes comfort in one: solitude. In that lingering, outward gaze into the light we see the immensity of his art more clearly than any number of words might ever hope to achieve. Which makes all the more incredible his acclimation to the talents of pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin, and drummer Billy Hart, with whom he again shares a bond (and a studio) for this, his fifth ECM outing. The Memphis-born saxophonist gives further proof that he has yet to fully chart the shadows cast some seven years earlier on his comeback album, Fish Out Of Water. If we have producer Manfred Eicher to thank for rescuing his music from the obscure corner into which it had been so carelessly painted by the media, we must also acknowledge the many inspirations that make their way onto this set of seven originals.
We might as well expand the title of the opening “Tales of Rumi” to “Tales of Rumination,” for such is the nature of the ancient Sufi mystic’s presence as Stenson tickles the piano’s oft-neglected lungs. A needle of thought appears and recedes, pinholing the night’s blank canvas with stars, each a camera obscura of time. As the trio steps into the foreground, giving blossom to this fragrance, Lloyd filters the spotlight with his rusted tenor, peaking above clouds of golden tenure. He would sooner slow down this train than ride it to the last station, content as he is to stay awhile in patient refraction. We hear this also in the chromatic flutter that tiddlywinks us into “How Can I Tell You.” He rolls and bakes this and every theme into a perfectly layered filo, never afraid to favor certain notes over others. It is his way of defining a center from which all other centers bloom, for each is of equal weight. If anything, the balance of fadeout and all-out burn in “Desolation Sound” emboldens us to accept that weight as if it were our own. A Satie-like impressionism welcomes us into the title track. Built of air and memory, it features the rhythm section’s most meditative work of the set and epitomizes the tender robustness at which Lloyd is so adept. “Nachiketa’s Lament” draws its name from a tale in the Upanishads and the selfsame boy who frees himself from saṃsāra in his rejection of material things. Lloyd finds solace for this retelling in the Tibetan oboe, combining with drums for a portrait of fruitless plains and empty bodies. Jormin and Stenson reveal their signatures only as the sun sets into the hills of “M,” of which the mineral-rich bass provides a solid perch for the tenorist’s heavy wing beats. Hart shakes off his fair share of pollen in a solo to remember before the last grand sweep of “Durga Durga.”
Listening to this quartet is a multisensory experience, restrained yet always harboring an earth-shattering song. Opting always for a restorative edge, Lloyd finishes his tunes like someone who never wants to. He not only tells but also embodies a story, practicing what he preaches through all criticism like a ghost of sincerity.