Charles Lloyd ‘Hagar’s Song’ (ECM) 4/5

Long-time ECM musician Charles Lloyd has regularly changed formats while maintaining a consistently high standard of performance and here enters into a duet recording with frequent group member and pianist Jason Moran which takes the listener on a highly entertaining journey of sounds past. Saxophone and piano duts are sadly all too infrequent, but when the right combination comes together, the effect can be spectacular as was the case between Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, or between Joe Lovano and Hank Jones which were both meetings of equals, although with obvious generational differences in the case of the latter. This new collaboration is very much a teacher-student relationship, though with the most gifted of students in Moran who excels on the standards in particular. The repertoire is neatly divided between a choice selection of the American songbook, some new original compositions from Lloyd and a few surprise inclusions from the 1960s singer-songwriter tradition. On Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ Moran convincingly plays in the stride tradition of the piano masters such as James P. Johnson and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith whereas Lloyd counterbalances this with Coltranesque sheets of sound from the ‘Blue Trane’ era. By contrast, there is a Monkesque flavour to Moran’s playing on the opening piece, Strayhorn’s ‘Pretty Girl’. Gershwin’s ‘Bess you is my woman now’ receives a stark deconstruction of the melody. As for Lloyd himself, he is at his most plaintive on the Joe Greene composition ‘All about Ronnie’ with the kind of tune that pianist Bill Evans could have weaved magic out of while a gorgeous rendition of ‘You’ve changed’ impresses. A lengthy, just under thirty minute suite, composed by Lloyd, features some evocative flute playing on part one of ‘Journey up the river’ whereas another shorter self-penned number ‘Pitcogram’ is much freer in form and sounds slightly out of place on the album, though does make for a varied approach. Both Dylan’s ‘I shall be released’, one of the most lyrical of the musical poet’s signatures and Brian Wilson’s ‘God only knows’ are instantly recognisable and work well in a jazz idiom. This is an album of solid confirmation rather than one of major innovation, but one that is an extremely enjoyable listening experience for all that. Jason Moran really ought to record a solo album in this vein. As an interesting aside, the cover features one of ECM’s most intruiging cover photos which is an artefact from an Afro-Brazilian musuem. A Brazilian music project from Charles Lloyd would be a mouthwatering prospect. Tim Stenhouse