Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo de Nube (ECM 2053)

Rabo de Nube

Charles Lloyd Quartet
Rabo de Nube

Charles Lloyd tenor saxophone, alto flute, tárogató
Jason Moran piano
Reuben Rogers double-bass
Eric Harland drums
Recorded live April 24, 2007 at Theater Basel
Engineers: Adam and Dominic Camardella
Produced by Charles Lloyd and Dorothy Darr

Rabo de Nube marks the inauguration of a quartet that has come to define Charles Lloyd to the present day. Pianist Jason Moran (making here his ECM debut), bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland join the tender tenorist for a set of seven recorded live before a rapt Swiss audience in 2007. Anyone who doubts that wisdom comes from experience need only drink in the meditations of “Prometheus” to know the truth of that maxim. Lloyd sparks the 15-minute opener by plucking a thread from the air and pulling the rhythm section’s explosive entrance into being. The ensuing uplift gives juice to his improvisational engine, which purrs all the more for its decades of breaking in.

The melding of playing styles in this quartet is obvious from the start. Moran flirts with rampage through Lloyd’s sunrays. Like a flock of loosed birds, the pianist’s notecraft scatters with purpose and genetic design. To this Rogers brings a fluid approach, redrawing the perimeter in anticipation of a grand return gilded by Harland’s signature delicacies. In keeping with this mood, Rogers intros “Migration of Spirit” humbly, thus priming the stage for Lloyd’s luscious thematizing. Moran is epic here, trailblazing rainbows into ragtime horizons. Those same nostalgic geometries permeate “La Colline de Monk,” which feels like a mission statement for Moran—a student paying homage to teacher. Complex yet never muddied, he holds a lens to the past, working in duet with Lloyd, as if to foreshadow Hagar’s Song. The story deepens.

Another backward glance brings the band to “Sweet Georgia Bright,” a classic that proceeds without fanfare, harking to Voice In The Night and further to the 1960s, when it was written. The rhythmatists are smoldering this time around, leaving Moran with a strong percussive challenge, duly met. This gives way to a drum solo of evolving sensitivity, working from droplets to drizzle to storm.

“Booker’s Garden” (written in memory of Booker Little, a childhood friend) and “Ramanujan” are the album’s only tenor-less departures. The former is a lilting vehicle for alto flute, while the latter fronts tárogató before a mélange of delicate bassing and transcendent pianism. In both is a gentle rendering that, like a skilled pumpkin carver, takes away just enough of the skin to let the candle shine through without puncture: luminescent to the core.

Although Rabo de Nube ends with its title (which translates as “Tail of a Cloud”), it’s a clear beginning: of an era, of a sound, of this quartet as it rides into the future. This tune is the only of the set not penned by Lloyd, coming instead from that of Silvio Rodríguez. It is the tenderest of them all and sustains Moran, who leads the way into terrain that finds abundance in sparseness.

Charles Lloyd’s music evolves like a fractal, from macro- to microscopic patterns. The album is accordingly structured so that little of it involves all band members at once. Each chapter is, rather, a catalyst for character development. The true accompaniment is something beyond even the musicians themselves, a sense of spirit that moves them to act. Through it all, Lloyd remains the familiar stranger. He wanders into town, leaving behind an ashen horizon, from which tendrils of smoke continue to rise, the only remainder of the civilization they once nourished—a civilization preserved in his horn. This album is a dream, ready to birth another.

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