Charles Lloyd: Lift Every Voice (ECM 1832/33)

Lift Every Voice

Charles Lloyd
Lift Every Voice

Charles Lloyd tenor saxophone, flute, taragato
Geri Allen piano
John Abercrombie guitar
Marc Johnson double-bass
Larry Grenadier double-bass
Billy Hart drums
Recorded January and February 2002 at Oceanway and Cello Studios, Los Angeles
Engineer: Michael C. Ross
Assistants: Robert Reid and Brian Vibettes
Sound: Joe Harley
Mastering: Bernie Grundman
Produced by Charles Lloyd and Dorothy Darr
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

“Truth is One, sages call it by various names.”
Rig Veda

On the night of September 11, 2001, Charles Lloyd was scheduled to appear at New York’s Blue Note jazz club. In the wake of that morning’s unforgettable tragedy, he took the concert’s postponement as an opportunity to meditate on a response. Out of this impulse came Lift Every Voice, which in spite of the events that provoked it is more spiritual than political, opting for a message born in words yet conveyed without them.

Lloyd has been shepherding trusting flocks with the crook of his bell for many decades, yet perhaps none so solemn as the one gathered here. Joined by pianist Geri Allen, guitarist John Abercrombie, bassists Marc Johnson and Larry Grenadier, and drummer Billy Hart, he enacts a sonic prayer that only two CDs can contain: one for each hand in supplication. Looking at the final tracks of both discs, we find such balance achieved. Where “Hafez, Shattered Heart” ends the first disc with a profound tárogató solo, opening a dream of desert to reveal another of water, the second concludes on a high note with “Prayer, The Crossing.” The latter’s visceral energy is the key to all that moves between it and the opening “Hymn to the Mother,” another Lloyd original that expands the session’s reach to the stars and back.

Lloyd’s material is the strongest—or, more precisely, is of an altogether different strength than the standards, hymns, and spirituals with which it shares breath—for it is also his most selfless. Whether it’s the bluesy Abercrombie vehicle “East Virginia, West Memphis,” the autumnal colors of “Angel Oak,” or the Allen-focused nostalgia trips “Beyond Darkness” and “Nocturne,” Lloyd finds his voice through the attunement of his band. He finds it further in the darkened fields and pathways left behind by those—named and nameless—who are no longer with us. Marvin Gaye flickers between realms in a distinct arrangement of “What’s Going On,” smooth as a northern light. The intimate repose of “Amazing Grace” (Lloyd plays this as if for the first time) and “You Are So Beautiful” defies all associations, flowering behind closed eyes and open heart. The lyrical cartilage of his support system follows every step as he flutters through the changes, a moth courting the flame.

Noteworthy also are the Duke Ellington tune “I’m Afraid,” a quintessential display of Lloyd’s tonal prowess, and Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count,” by far one of the most touching five minutes Lloyd has ever recorded. Two pieces by Cuban protest singer Silvio Rodríguez, “Te Amaré” and “Rabo de Nube,” thicken the pot with some heartfelt craft, both highlights not to be missed. They quiver at slightest contact, cups filled to the brim. All of which infuses eternal flowers like “Go Gown Moses” and the title hymn with constellations galore.

Terror is the soil of togetherness, and in chaotic times the sunflowers are our singers. In their company and by their guidance we open our mouths to the sky. Lloyd is one such singer. Yet he does not lift his voice. Rather, he lets the high notes crack, lest they distract us from the healing taking place beneath them. Thus he gives attention to the impermanence of things. A philosophical move, perhaps, but an inevitable one that reminds us of music’s fragile architecture. He is neither leader nor follower, but a border without countries. He is an artist who stands before us, poised to weep as the world weeps around him.

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