Lloyd/Hussain/Harland: Sangam (ECM 1976)

Sangam

Sangam

Charles Lloyd tenor and alto saxophones, tárogató, bass and alto flutes, piano, percussion
Zakir Hussain tabla, voice, percussion
Eric Harland drums, percussion, piano
Recorded live May 23, 2004 at Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, California
Engineer: Dom Camardella (Sound Design Studio)
Produced by Dorothy Darr and Charles Lloyd

“When the spirit is blowing, I know I have to hoist my sails to catch the breeze,” says Charles Lloyd. Indeed, the Memphis-born saxophonist and spiritual walker has left footprints in many a patch of earth, each with its own song to sing. Yet nothing has leveled the playing field of his already vast history with such vitality as Sangam. The name of this fruitful side project, which Lloyd shares with tabla legend Zakir Hussain and prodigious jazz drummer Eric Harland, connotes “confluence, a meeting place, a gathering or coming-together, literally or metaphorically.” This recording—Lloyd’s first live outing for ECM—thus takes the post-Higgins era in a profound new rhythmic direction while also paying homage to the worldliness that Lloyd’s late ally brought to their journeying hearts.

This new trio rides the same wave, shares the same breath, and, as the title of “Dancing on One Foot” implies, moves through the same body. Hussain’s unmistakable groove and Harland’s brushwork set the scene, through which Lloyd wanders with his favored tárogató in hand, stitching the universe. Hussain attends to tuning as would a painter to color, matching tone and thickness to suit each canvas and subject in kind. This is especially apparent in “Tender Warriors,” an emblematic piece for the group that features Lloyd’s all-too-rarely employed alto, as well as in “Nataraj.” In “Guman,” the album’s only tune not written by Lloyd (it is by Hussain), its composer sings hand in hand with flute, weaving and veining the arid plains with the concert’s most intimate pathways.

Also remarkable are the ways in which Hussain and Harland communicate throughout. One might expect, in such a young configuration, that Harland would be feeling his way through the shadow of his fellow rhythmatist, when in fact he meets Hussain in creative brotherhood. Lloyd’s tenoring is, though, a force to be reckoned with, imbuing a range of mountains and valleys with snow and flora, respectively. “Tales of Rumi” is among the more epic statements in this regard, a portal to infinite others. Here the trio enacts a transfiguration, a triangle within a triangle within a triangle: the album’s title made manifest. Through it all, Lloyd fast-forwards through eons of cosmic history (were it not for Hussain’s playful quotation of Rossini’s William Tell overture, we might hardly associate the music with Earth). The title track, too, is a thematic tour de force, sandwiching Lloyd between the drummers with commonality and freedom. Even when Lloyd is invisible, the other senses tell us he is there. “Hymn to the Mother” and “Lady in the Harbor,” each a soulful dirge, handles emotions as if they were fragments of a broken window. Piece by piece, they reconstruct the prism, so that in “Little Peace” they can dance without fear. Theirs is a butterfly effect, whose catalysts are life, love, and laughter.

Three sages light up the night with the memory of a solar flare. Responsive as responsorial, they render jazz at a universal level. Sangam has the power to bleed the offshore accounts of our needless indulgences dry and redirect their provisions to those who need them most. It is an anthem, a tumbling of the social ladder to a horizontal plane.

Three as one. One as three.

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