Charles Lloyd New Quartet ‘Passin’ Thru’ LP/CD (Blue Note) 5/5

Charles Lloyd has always been a prolific artist, but in his more mature years he has continued to perform and release music at quite an astounding rate. Since UK Vibe favourite ‘Wild Man Dance’ was released in 2015, he has produced three other projects including ‘Passin’ Thru’, which is again delivered via Blue Note records. But here, Lloyd returns to his celebrated quartet formation which he first established in 1965, with this his most recent configuration consisting of Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harlan playing drums, Jason Moran on piano and Charles Lloyd playing both tenor saxophone and flute. The compositions are all Lloyd originals, with many being previously recorded and/or performed during his extensive career, with this set emanating from two recording dates, with track 1 recorded at Montreux Jazz Festival on 30th June 2016 and tracks 2-7 recorded at The Lensic, Santa Fe, New Mexico on 29th July 2016.

This seven set affair begins with the Lloyd classic ‘Dream Weaver’, which originally appeared on his debut 1965 quartet album of the same name, but this 18-minute version is an extraordinary epic, diverse and dynamic performance and is rubato in form. In one moment, Moran’s piano stylings are very melodic and the next they leap into a fiery rage, matching the various tempo changes. ‘Part 5, Ruminations’ is probably the free-ist track of the set, with its modal harmonic structure, spiritual jazz undercurrent, walking bassline and almost conversational interaction between the quartet. ‘Nu Blues’ is just that, an update of the 12-bar tradition with its jazz-blues characteristics, bebop references and intense solos, with Reuben Rogers’ upright bass anchoring the entire 12-minute piece. ‘How Can I Tell You’ is essentially a jazz ballad and is the straightest composition of the album.

‘Tagore On The Delta’ is a somewhat early 60s influenced soul clap celebration with its four-on-the-floor drum pattern, which sees Lloyd exchanging his sax for flute, where he improvises over a one-chord groove but with a quite funky modal attitude, and even features Jason Moran strumming the piano strings like a guitar within the introduction section. ‘Passin’ Thru’ is evidently based around the themes of a journey, and in a 2017 Blue Note interview Lloyd stated that, “It’s a small planet, and we are just passing through on our journey to One. Every now and then there are important intersections”. The final piece, the contemplative ‘Shiva Prayer’, utilises tension, dark and light and other emotive elements to create a kind of musical exploration into a meditative state. Truly spiritual jazz.

A great deal of trust is obviously apparent between the quartet members with previously shared experiences and familiarity supporting this high level of improvisation. Musical ideas are passed around, developed, regurgitated and amended effortlessly throughout the set without any clear weak link – but this is one of the most celebrated ensembles of our time. And although Lloyd would be classed as an elder statesman at 79 as of March 2017, he plays like a 25 year old. He still sounds hungry. When many of his (some much younger) contemporaries have reduced their musical output or focused on performing standards or greatest hits shows, Charles Lloyd continues to be a force to be reckoned with.

This album is far more comparable to ‘Wild Man Dance’ (2015) than ‘I Long To See You’, the piano-less album he crafted with Charles Lloyd & The Marvels in 2016. And it needs to be stated that the album was either originally missed by the UK Vibe team or was not initially fully absorbed into our consciousness when first released, including by this writer. But as the end of 2017 approaches, this is an ideal opportunity to seek out missed or overlooked releases from the year that deserves our attention.

Damian Wilkes