Charles Lloyd ‘Wild Man Dance’ (Blue Note) 5/5 & 4/5

charles-lloyd“Wild Man Dance” is Charles Lloyd’s first Blue Note release since 1985’s live quartet set “A Night In Copenhagen” which featured aspiring pianist Michel Petrucciani. In the years between then and now, the saxophonist has recorded almost exclusively for ECM, releasing many stunning albums, cementing his place as one of jazz’s greatest living musicians. What is also quite incredible, is that in a career spanning more than 50 years, so much of Lloyd’s output has been consistently of such a high quality, and at 76 years of age when this album was recorded, he is still producing such inspiring music. From his early years in the 60’s working with the likes of Keith Jarrett, through to the present day, one thing has always stood out with Lloyd; a meditative, spiritual grace that not only permeates its way through his own writing and playing, but also encourages and gives the time and space for his fellow musicians to contribute and breathe the music they are collectively performing. And “Wild Man Dance” is no different, offering yet another example of Lloyd’s special presence and standing. “I come from a tradition of wild yogis,” says Lloyd, who explains the premise behind Wild Man Dance. “I’m a blues man on a spiritual journey. The blues come out of a quest for freedom. My spiritual path is the search for the liberation of the soul. The piece is about finding freedom. As I began writing, it was for a core quartet instrumentation of piano, bass and drums, but the added voices of lyra and cimbalom quickly flowed in.”

The six-movement Wild Man Dance Suite was commissioned and then recorded in its premiere performance at the Jazztopad Festival in Poland, and features pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, as well as Greek lyra virtuoso Sokratis Sinopoulos and Hungarian cimbalom maestro Miklós Lukács, who add colour and texture and rhythmically charge the music. Lloyd’s compositions take the listener on an incredible journey with a dynamic, elegant, graceful, meditative and emotive sense of transcendence and mystery. The six pieces personify what is so legendary about Lloyd as a writer, performer and band leader, taking the listener on an adventure that is quite breathtaking in its skill and beauty. Lloyd marvels at the organic nature of each band member’s performance of Wild Man Dance. “The music goes direct,” he says. “As to how this happens, words elude me. The ‘zone’ is what calls me—and it is not about my solo or their solos, but about the synchronicity of our combined expression and elevation. Volition, vision and velocity. The call of the wild.”

From the opening piece “Flying Over The Orcha Valley” through over 70 minutes to the close of “Wild Man Dance”, the whole band put in some exhilarating performances, creating an atmosphere fuelled with ethereal jazz of the highest calibre. If I focus on just one track here, hopefully this will serve as a taster for the rest of the album. The 2nd part of the suite, “Lark” provides us with some of Lloyd’s strongest writing in years. Pianist Gerald Clayton, who’s touch and finesse is a major plus throughout the album, opens this tune in thoughtful, pensive style. Rising above some beautiful chords we are then drawn in completely by the swoon of the lyra, performed here by Sokratis Sinopoulos. This wonderful intro to the piece is further enhanced by Joe Sanders’ bowed bass, working in tandem with the lyra to create an oriental-like orchestration. This is for jazz what Vaughan Williams’ “Lark Ascending” was for classical music. After 5 minutes Lloyd brings in the main theme with his instantly recognisable tenor sax. Melancholy and yet ultimately uplifting, with the evergreen saxophonist soaring, the track develops into a contagious groove, underpinned by a rhythm section featuring drummer Gerald Cleaver, that is so bang on the money over the whole session it just leaves this listener in awe. Clayton’s piano solo is absolutely stunning as he brings the best out of this wonderful Charles Lloyd composition.

There have been so many peaks throughout Charles Lloyd’s career one has to try and put this one into context. It is wonderful to see a musician in his senior years, still writing and performing music with such sincerity… with such soul. The flow of his creativity thankfully shows no signs of abating.

Mike Gates Rating 5/5

After over twenty years with ECM at a remarkably consistent level throughout, Charles Lloyd has moved to Blue Note and this live recording from the Polish Jazz Festival, co-produced by the multi-reedist and wife, and with the close help of label head Don Was, marks his debut for the legendary jazz label. It is a typically intense affair and the listener is taken in at the deep end of what is above all else a spiritual release with a looser feel, the majority of pieces weighing in at over ten minutes. Each of the individual numbers goes through several moods and it is all too easy to lose oneself in the heat of the moment. Melodic and intense in equal measure, ‘Part IV. The River’, is the most compelling composition and leads into an expansive, swinging section with fine interplay between drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist Gerald Clayton, and with Lloyd’s tenor wailing sweetly. Eastern philosophical musings abound on the intro to ‘Part II. The Lark’ and this piece is especially Coltranesque both in intensity and length with modal piano from Clayton hinting at the sideman duties of McCoy Tyner, and where the smouldering entrance of Lloyd contrasts with the introspection on piano. Interestingly on ‘Part V. The Invitation’ Lloyd references both western classical and Greek folk forms, the latter with the inclusion of lyra and cymbalom and this portrays him in an infinitely gentler mood, recalling Coltrane from the ‘Crescent’, or even ‘Ballads’ albums. Previously Lloyd’s love of Greek music was showcased on recordings for ECM. In general these lengthy and brooding pieces demonstrate the elasticity of the new group collective as well as those of individual performers within. A fine way to commence a new episode in Charles Lloyd’s illustrious career that shows no sign whatsoever of waning and is very much on the up.

Tim Stenhouse Rating 4/5