Charles Lloyd and The Marvels + Lucinda Williams ‘Vanished Gardens’ LP/CD (Blue Note) 4/5

Multi-reedist Charles Lloyd is now perceived as a doyen of the US music tradition and the ambition here clearly is to portray him as an elder statesman of US roots music, bringing together disparate elements of the scene, with blues and jazz legitimate and logical bedfellows, but with the added inclusion of folk-blues-rock singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. In actual fact, that collaboration is no mere manufactured meeting of minds, but rather partly comes out of their common southern States roots, and partly also in practical terms from Lloyd hearing an album by Williams, ‘Car wheels on a gravel road’, which he enjoyed, then catching up with the singer at a Marvels concert in Santa Barbara. That in turn led to Williams inviting Lloyd to one of her concerts, an invitation that was returned in kind by Lloyd. For the latest recording, Charles Lloyd is once again accompanied by the Marvels, with the ever excellent Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on double bass and Eric Harland on drums

The album is noteworthy equally in that this year represents the eightieth year of Charles Lloyd on this planet and it is a career that has witnessed a meteoric rise to fame in the mid-late 1960s before a prolonged and self-enforced retirement ensued in the late 1960s and pretty much throughout the 1970s. Then a chance encounter with French pianist Michel Petrucciani encouraged Lloyd to gradually return to recording and in 1989 commenced a lengthy and triumphant resurrection of that same career with a whole new audience on the ECM label. Fast forward to the present and Charles Lloyd is now enjoying a new career on Blue Note. On ‘Blues For Langston and La Rue’, Charles Lloyd on flute and Bill Frisell on guitar operate in tandem on a lovely, relaxed number and it is lovely to hear Lloyd for once just on the flute and he is a fine exponent. The music works best when Lloyd and Frisell play together off one another as on the intimate cover of ‘Monk’s Mood’, and this is really a showcase for the guitarist to shine and it is a full two minutes before Frisell even states the theme. Lloyd then enters the fray on warm tenor. Ideally, a duet album between the two would make for a scintillating recording at some point. Lucinda Williams has an interesting background in that her father was a literature professor and thus she inhabited an environment where creative writing was positively encouraged. Little wonder, then, that she should choose to adapt a poem by Miller Williams for the tribute to him, ‘Dust’, which has also been recorded previously on her 2016 album, ‘The Ghosts of Highway 20’. It is indeed her gravelly delivery that permeates, ‘Angel’, and in some respects she is a not dissimilar voice from a feminine perspective of that of Bob Dylan. Indeed, one wonders whether a Dylan-Lloyd collaboration might be on the cards given Dylan’s more recent tribute album to the music of Frank Sinatra. Both Frisell and Lloyd are the most sensitive of accompanists to Lucinda Williams, but it has to be said that the combination does take a little time to seep into the subconsciousness, especially given the very different accompaniment on her recent albums with a strong blues-rock element. That said, Lloyd has previously played alongside singers, with Willie Nelson and Norah Jones guesting on one of his most recent Blue Note albums, and a wonderful pairing of the reedist with Greek singer, Maria Farantouri, on a live ‘Athens Concert’ in 2011 on ECM. Lucinda Williams started her career covering classic folk-blues so the meeting of musical minds is not that great a gap to bridge, if at all. What this new studio recording marks is the next phase in the collaborative process between Charles Lloyd and both the Marvels and Lucinda Williams, and a such it can be recommended without hesitation.

Tim Stenhouse