Charles Lloyd Quartet: Mirror (ECM 2176)


Charles Lloyd Quartet

Charles Lloyd tenor, alto saxophone, voice
Jason Moran piano
Reuben Rogers double bass
Eric Harland drums
Recorded December 2009 at Santa Barbara Sound Design
Engineer: Dominic Camardella
Produced by Charles Lloyd, Dorothy Darr, and Manfred Eicher

Charles Lloyd is that rare artist who one can say truly grows with every recording, and I would venture that Mirror finds him at one of many pinnacles in a career that thankfully shows no signs of abating. As part of the same quartet that wowed us on the live recording Rabo de Nube, Lloyd is joined by Jason Moran on piano, Rueben Rogers on double bass, and Eric Harland on drums for the outfit’s first studio session.

The title of this latest studio effort is no accident. As Lloyd himself once said in an interview with Greg Burk of his musical break between 1969 and 1989, “I went to work on myself, so that I would be more equipped to serve the Creator and music and mankind, and I had to face the mirror of my own inadequacies.” And indeed on this date we hear him contemplating his own reflection, the ways in which it speaks back to him with the unmistakable voice of that Tennessee tenor.

As has become increasingly clear through the years, Lloyd’s heart lies in tradition. We hear this not only in the affect of his presence, but also in his interpretation of standard repertoire. Beyond the obvious technical abilities required to pull this off with the consistency that he does, he also posses the uncanny talent to compress every tune into his marrow and live it before ever putting reed to lips. And through this handful of traditions he carries us from the mosaic of beautiful fragments in “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” where Moran’s stained glass solo glows by Harland’s feathered light, and into “The Water Is Wide,” where Moran shines again in a fully loaded groove: the exuberance of a gospel singer with head thrown back in glory, stitching the pathos of faith one patch at a time. Lloyd’s delicacy in “Go Down Moses” is duly inspiring and leaps into well-trodden arenas of stratospheric wisdom as the quartet achieves an enviable coalescence, the percussion especially colorful. Yet for me the session’s jewel drops into our hands in “La Llorona,” a stepwise lament in which Lloyd allows himself to falter at carefully placed expectorations, cracking like a tear-ridden voice in prayer. Stunning.

“I Fall in Love Too Easily” opens the doors widest to a field planted by Moran’s petal-by-petal profusion, and leaves us well primed for two Thelonious Monk joints. Where Lloyd flits like a butterfly possessed in “Monk’s Mood” (against the smoothest pianism of the set, no less), he turns like an oblong waterwheel through a river of affection in “Ruby, My Dear,” a more rubato affair in which Moran’s octave splits ring heartfelt and true. “Caroline, No” gives us a taste of the Beach Boys years, drawing its motif at an angle while Lloyd soliloquizes on the pleasures of contortion. And let us not forget the wellspring of his own pen. From the depths of “Desolation Sound” to the magic of “Being And Becoming, Road To Dakshineswar With Sangeeta,” Lloyd the composer regales us with wordless incantations—that is, until the the nine-minute “Tagi,” for which he blesses the studio with a retelling of Bhagavad Gita scripture (the title is “Gita” reversed and means “sacrifice”) before tracing a line up to the sun.

Lloyd always begins and ends with the breath, tracing a circle of life. His is energy classic, wood-grained yet with a fine metallic sheen. Like the cover photograph, this is music that has nothing to hide regarding the means of its creation, lays it all out in the oneness of things, where light and shadow share a thematic dance. Let this album be your mirror, and your story will begin the moment you open your soul and look.

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