Recorded live May 23, 2004
at Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, California
Sangam is Charles Lloyd's 11th recording for ECM. All of these albums have been compelling in their way. They have stretched both artist and audience to varying degrees. This set, recorded live in 2004 at a theater in Santa Barbara during homage for the late Billy Higgins, was Lloyd's debut performance with Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain (Shakti), and drummer/percussionist Eric Harland (Lloyd's quartet drummer). What started as a one-off by three players brought together for one purpose has become Sangam, a going concern. This music, while rooted in the rhythms of the world, is jazz without a doubt. Lloyd plays everything from tenor and soprano to flutes, taragato, piano, and some percussion. While Lloyd is the centerpiece and is the melodic and harmonic bridge, what's on offer here is something truly unexpected, something wildly original and essential to jazz-improvisatory communication: the interplay between Harlan's trap drums and Hussain's tablas is utterly astonishing. The rhythm section sings, squawks, whispers, and cries, and Lloyd, in his grace, plays his ass off while making plenty of room for this rather miraculous interaction. There is complete freedom here between percussive voices. Lloyd's allowance for, and encouragement of that space is remarkable for any leader, but his willingness to let the music unfold and happen is compelling, magical, and gives true definition to the term "Sangam," a defintion, according to the liner notes, of "confluence and coming together." The entire soloist rhythm section idea has been tossed. It means less than nothing here, and probably didn't occur to any of the players once the music began happening. The jam opens with Lloyd on taragato for "Dancing on One Foot," digging deep in acknowledging upfront the ensemble's debt to Eastern origins. But it goes so much further. "Tales of Rumi" is pure flow. Lloyd's tenor playing through modes and tonalities from the blues to Sufi music, with Hussain setting a pulse that Harland underscores, improvises upon, and then creates another pulse where Hussain takes off and creates yet another rhythm and its mirror image, as Lloyd listens deeply and sings the song. "Sangam" is introduced by a dialogue between Harland and Hussain, setting some otherworldly space for Lloyd to enter. He falls into their folded dimensionality and begins from the heart of their dialogue on his tenor. One can hear the Coltrane of "Africa" here, as well as Eric Dolphy's bop-stretched harmonics. But most importantly, one can hear Lloyd, his voice so sure-footed, his ear so finely tuned to what is happening around him that he allows himself to be carried by that stream of percussive ideas and accents as he hears them, and speaks something deep, definite, and open in order to prod the pair on. It goes like this for the entire 65 minutes. From one place lyric and melodious that breaks through to another song form as yet unheard in this piece by anyone playing it ("Hymn to the Mother") to another full of ritual space and Indian classicism - Hussain's "Guman," that pays homage to the discipline of his father - the effect is the same: its mystery is revealed as it happens, and creates as many questions as it answers. There is a jazzman's sense of adventure in all of this, however, and Lloyd, Hussain, and Harland honor that spirit and, as always, knowing the music's great generosity of spirit, brings in everything that feels right while freely giving props - sonically - to the territories it derives that inspiration and generosity from.
All Music Guide
"Sangam" is the first release from Charles Lloyd's exciting new trio with Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, the gifted drummer from his 'regular' quartet. The album - Lloyd's first live disc for ECM - was recorded in California in 2004. Taped at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara in the context of a memorial concert for Billy Higgins, it brings to the surface some 'Eastern' enthusiasms that have been part of Lloyd's palette for a very long time.
Already in the early to mid 1960s, Lloyd's way of easing meaning and emotion from a melody in his tenor sax improvisations was influenced by sitar players and druhpad singers, just as it was influenced by the lineage of jazz greats extending from Lester Young and the expressive masters of the blues. The emotional climates of raga also influenced Lloyd's extended modal compositions. In the early 1970s he collaborated on record with sarod player Aashish Khan and tabla player Pranesh Khan. The line-up of his touring bands, however, largely followed the conventions of jazz - sax, piano and/or guitar, bass, and drums.
The association with Billy Higgins changed this. On "Which Way Is East"(recorded 2001) and some of the duo concerts that preceded it, Lloyd and his drummer friend roved far beyond definitions of jazz - touching on other traditions, combining traditions, playing a very open form pan-cultural music. Lloyd originally sought to extend the spirit of the collaboration with Higgins in the "Sangam" group, which quickly assumed a strong identity of its own. The trio has already toured widely, receiving ovations and ecstatic reviews from Montreal to Madrid.
One of the first surprises on encountering the group is the sense of completeness that it projects. A trio with sax and two drummers, it seems to lack nothing. "There are so many nuances...." Lloyd says. "Sometimes it seems almost orchestral. It's not about somebody supporting and somebody leading. The carpet we fly on is powered by all of us and whatever is flowing through us. " Sangam, a word of multiple definition, signifies confluence, a meeting place, a gathering or coming-together, literally or metaphorically. Triveni sangam means a three-way junction or meeting of three rivers, which merge and flow as one. Flow - free and unimpeded flow - is of central importance to the members of the group. Hussain and Harland are granted a lot of space in the music; they make the fullest use of it.
Lloyd first encountered Eric Harland at a jam session in New York's Blue Note club in September 2001 recognising immediately that he was hearing one of the great drummers.
Within a year Harland was playing with the saxophonist - the latest in a long line of superb Lloyd group drummers that has included Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Pete La Roca, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Jon Christensen and Billy Hart. Harland, who turns 30 in 2006, was first inspired to play jazz by the example of Elvin Jones on Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." He has since played with McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders and Ravi Coltrane, with Joshua Redman, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Wynton Marsalis and many others. He is especially excited about the opportunity to play with Zakir Hussain in Lloyd's trio: "Everything Zakir plays has this feeling of freedom and authenticity about it. No matter where you go, he is able to be right there in the centre of it with the full force and flavour of his musical identity. And, of course, he's grown up with different complex rhythms since he was a child, so it is completely natural for him to play through any metric modulation. It's really an honour to be in a situation where I can have these dialogues with such a master musician. I'm learning a lot about tabla and Indian music, just by breathing in his rhythms."
The son of the great innovator Alla Rakha (who effectively introduced the tabla to the wider world through his 30 year collaboration with Ravi Shankar), Zakir studied with his father from the age of three and was playing professionally by the time he was 13. He has played with every major figure in Indian classical music but has also been a prime mover in the development of a trans-cultural world music aesthetic. He was barely 20 when he participated in the pioneering genre synthesis of sarod masterAli Akbar Khan and jazz altoist John Handy. Then came Shakti with John McLaughlin, and diverse collaborations with the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart.
========= from the cover ==========
In May 2004 at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California, Charles Lloyd presented an event headlined "Homage to Billy Higgins", honouring the memory of an old friend and a superlative musician. A screening of Dorothy Darr's documentary Home, showing Higgins and Lloyd conversing informally, with and without instruments, in the last months of the drummer's earthly life, was followed by the performance of a trio brought together for the occasion. Lloyd, with his raft of reeds - tenor, alto, flutes, tarogato - was joined by his resourceful quartet drummer Eric Harland and by Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain.This album revisits that performance - a first coming-together of what has since become the Sangam trio, Lloyd's "other" band, a new configuration of special importance to the saxophonist.
As the listener will quickly gather, Sangam is an exciting, celebratory group. Charles Lloyd is inclined to give the credit to all the good will Higgins is beaming down from Devachan, but the positive energy radiating from the interplay of Hussain's hand drums and Harland's jazz traps should not be underestimated. Zakir and Eric's frequently breathtaking exchanges - a rush of purring, jewel precision beats - energize Lloyd's own playing. "When the spirit is blowing, I know I have to hoist my sails to catch the breeze", Lloyd says, a typically gnomic remark that hints both at the character of his uniquely buoyant, floating sound and the way in which he leads this group (as many Lloyd bands before it), by encouraging the music to emerge naturally-carrying him, and all participants, with it. Over the years, many musicians have hailed Charles Lloyd as an enlightened bandleader, but it is almost misleading to talk about "leading"at all in this context.
Sax-soloist-and-accompanists is not the model in the Sangam group; mutual inspiration elevates the band, as ideas are hurled, often gleefully, between the three musicians. Lloyd: "Nobody takes the solo spotlight, we're all helping each other. In the moment, one of us will trigger something and somebody's got it and gone with it. Next thing you know, we're opening this whole other ballet together, with these little waterfalls and things coming down... It's hard to talk about without the language to describe the creative reservoir."
Sangam, a word of multiple definition, signifies confluences meeting place, a gathering or coming-together, literally or metaphorically. Triveni sangam means a three-way junction or meeting of three rivers, which merge and flow as one. Flow - free and unimpeded flow - is of central importance to the members of the group. Zakir Hussain enthuses about the freedom he has found inside it.
"What's great for me is the space the maestro allows us to have. Eric and I are not like two colts being reined in: we're allowed to canter and gallop. In the Indian classical format, there is also improvisational freedom, yet even if I'm playing with a great master like Ali Akbar Khan or Ravi Shankar, there are still conventions that have to be honoured. Sometimes you have to tiptoe, you have to tread carefully because it is expected of you, and in the tradition. But this master", he extends a hand towards Lloyd,"with his stadium-sized heart, is always saying 'Go for it! Don't hold yourself back! If the mood is upon you and the moment is there, by all means seize it.' It is a great blessing for me to have that kind of encouragement and it makes it possible to have this three-way triveni, tipali, three-faceted discussion, and take the journey together. Every day it is different, every day there are new topics to talk about in the music- philosophizing, gossiping, laughing or singing together. So far every concert has been spontaneously creative and simply a great joy." Around the table: hearty agreement.
Although a basic plan of action had been loosely discussed prior to the concert, there were no rehearsals for the Lobero gig, nor was there a set list. "I was a little apprehensive", Zakir admits,"because the drums of the tabla are pitched, and I wasn't sure what pitches were needed. I said 'What key do you want the tabla in?'and Charles said,'Oh, just tune to the key of the universe.' I thought, 'Hmm, let's see. The universe hums in B-flat, so...'"
Zakir, as Charles Lloyd remarks,"has got a lot of tones", and the absence of a conventional harmony instrument is scarcely felt. If piano is called for in the course of the set, Lloyd himself can play it thoughtfully, undemonstratively; so too can Harland. (Eric takes over from Charles at the transition between "Nataraj" and Zakir's song "Guman"), and the tabla has both a melodic and rhythmic function. Hussain plays bass runs .with his left hand, sometimes interjecting playful quotes a la Sonny Rollins. (Rollins' "St Thomas"seems to blend with Lloyd's "Sombrero Sam" in the tabla solo at the end of "Tales of Rumi", soon followed by a more inscrutable snippet of Rossini's famous overture...)
Over the curve of time, Charles Lloyd has become one of the most distinctive voices in the music. Instantly recognizable, he nonetheless has many ways of singing his song. On ballads, free or otherwise, he is given to subtle phrasing and shadings, with a way of worrying a line that often links his personal expressive idiom to the blues, and to the tender soliloquies of Lester Young. Yet when the emotional temperature rises, keening, soaked-in-the-spirit tenor cries predominate, clearly springing from the same source that Coltrane's once did.
And when he plays the alto today, a horn he set aside for almost four decades, critics claim to perceive, in his bubbling melodic invention, connections to Ornette - not unfeasibly, I suppose, since Lloyd and Coleman were peers and jamming partners in California in the pre-free-jazz years of the late 1950s. Lately, Lloyd's been easing the tenor into the alto's range as well. With any of his horns, using strings of arpeggios like calligraphic embellishment, he can sing of places far beyond "jazz", even though his jazz roots are firmly, even impeccably, anchored.
Back in Memphis, Tennessee, Lloyd's childhood friends included Phineas Newborn ("our local sound mystic") and Booker Little, who shared his love of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. They also shared a musical hunger too intense to be satiated by any single genre, however rich:"We used to listen to everything. We listened to Bartok, because it had to do with modernity, but we also saw how he was taking folk themes and working with them. Well, that's what Howlin' Wolf and Junior Parker and Johnny Ace were dealing with in their music, too: the transformation of the folk song. That's the subject of the blues! See, there was no second-class citizenship in our world of spirit."
Jazz, blues, folk and 20th century composition were all absorbed, but there were no grounds, Lloyd reasoned, for a player to limit his listening to "western" forms. In his mid-60s band with Gabor Szabo, Charles Lloyd urged the Hungarian guitarist to take heed of raga, and Ravi Shankar in particular. To his group with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette (1966-9) he played tapes of North Indian khayal singers Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khan, a palpable influence on Lloyd recordings including Journey Within. Further musical-philosophical reinforcement came from Sufi teacher-singer-veena player Hazrat Inayat Khan's book "The Mysticism of Sound and Music" (also regarded as a key text by Karlheinz Stockhausen, interestingly). In the early 1970s sarod player Aashish Khan and his tabla-playing brother Pranesh Khan made contributions to Lloyd's work. And more recently, the duets with Billy Higgins brought guimbri, Indian and Guinean hand drums and more into an improvised music that took its inspirational energies from everywhere and asked the reasonable question, Which Way is East? Well, who better to address it than a player with African, Native American, Asian and European forebears, genetically predisposed to be a "world" musician! Sangam, then, represents not a change of direction but a crystallization of ideas that have been part of Lloyd's musical thought for a long time.
As this album opens, we find Lloyd dancing ecstatically ("on one foot") with the tarogato,the Hungarian folk instrument shaped like a wooden soprano sax, which Gustav Mahler famously deployed for the "Shepherd's Tune" when directing Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Charles Lloyd's improvisation seems to direct the instrument, intuitively, toward its deep Arab-Magyar origins, although the outflung net of the percussionists draws in a wider range of reference. I asked Zakir Hussain about the rhythmic constructions he's creating inside the improvisations. Does he still think in terms of Indian rhythm cycles when playing with jazz musicians?
"No, in this group I don't want to tie myself down with that. I'm thinking 'pulse'. My ears are listening to Eric's bass drum and ride cymbal which sometimes set the pulse that we follow" - Lloyd too describes Harland as the band's"heartbeat"-"and sometimes there's a groove we'll want to dwell in for a while, but most of the time we are moving. Constantly moving. Even the 4/4 is very fluid. Random tonalities appear. Patterns are always evolving. Almost every third or fourth bar is different rhythmically."
Eric Harland: "Everything Zakir plays has this feeling of freedom and authenticity about it. No matter where you go, he is able to be right there in the centre of it with the full force and flavour of his musical identity. And, of course, he's grown up with different complex rhythms since he was a child, so it is completely natural for him to play through any metric modulation. It's really an honour to be in a situation where I can have these dialogues with such a master musician. I'm learning a lot about tabla and Indian music, just by breathing in his rhythms."
It has to be said, though, that Harland is also giving back a great deal. Unquestionably one of the most arresting and fluent young drummers in jazz today, he has already played with McCoy Tyner, . Pharoah Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, Joshua Redman, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Wynton Marsalis and more. Playing kit drums in dialogue with tabla in Lloyd's trio poses specific acoustical and dynamic challenges as well as musical challenges, but Harland is able to "play low volume drums without any loss of emotional power, continually adjusting the pressure of sticks on the drumheads to draw forth differentiated tones and interact compellingly with Hussain."He's playing hand drums disguised as a drum kit", says Zakir approvingly.
Eric Harland was only 12 years old when the power of Coltrane's A Love Supreme hit him like a thunderbolt."That was when I knew what I wanted to do." He locked himself away and tried to play like a wilder Elvin,"swinging the whole drum set." Like Coltrane, he takes the musical-spiritual quest seriously: the Texan drummer has been a theology student as well as a student of jazz, and is also an ordained minister."I was raised in a primarily Baptist family, but All - or God - can't be constrained within a certain form of religion. It encompasses everything, and religion is just a way that people can grasp to express themselves in that genre. Different religions are like different forms of music: this form, that form. I like to study different forms of religious teaching, but most of all my wish is to follow the will of God."
A common bond between the three group members is a very inclusive attitude toward matters of the spirit. Although born into a Muslim family, Zakir Hussain attended a Catholic school as a child in India, and evokes Hindu mythology - Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha - when talking about the roots of music. Charles Lloyd has long been a student of Vedanta, which argues for the essential unity of all religions, but like Harland has also examined many strands of faith - hence, indeed, the salute to Islamic poet Rumi, at whose funeral, in 1273, it is reported, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims mourned together.
Charles Lloyd first heard Eric Harland in New York in September 2001, in a week in which religious tolerance was at low ebb in international relations. Lloyd's quintet - with John Abercrombie, Geri Allen, Larry Grenadier and Billy Hart-had been booked to open at the Blue Note club on 9/11. Instead, the players watched smoke rise from the ruins of the Twin Towers, and the club was blacked out for three days. They were finally able to play on the Friday. After their set, a group of New York based musicians played in a morale- boosting jam band, Eric Harland among them. Lloyd, whose ear for gifted drummers is unerring, knew at once that he was hearing one of the special ones. The following year Eric joined the Charles Lloyd Quartet, the latest in a long line of great Lloyd drummers that has included Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Pete La Roca, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette and Jon Christensen, as well as Higgins and Hart.
Two months after meeting Harland, Charles Lloyd played in duo with Zakir Hussain at a "Sacred Space Concert" in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. "It was really beautiful", Wanda Sabir was to write in the San Francisco Bay View, "watching Lloyd play tenor, floating among the notes Hussain created with his hands."Although the concert had sold out a month in advance, there had been concern that the audience might stay away. With rumours rife, in an edgy season, that Al Qaeda was about to detonate the Golden Gate Bridge,"people were scared to come in from Marin. Zakir got on the microphone and said that music was about building bridges, not destroying them... In the end, we were oversubscribed."
Zakir Hussain has been building musical bridges for many years. His earliest collaborations with sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and saxophonist John Handy, made when he was just 20, raised the bar for transcultural experiments of enduring value that have included such projects as Shakti, the Diga Rhythm Band (formed by Hussain with the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart), Zakir's 1986 ECM album Making Music (with Hariprasad Chaurasia, Jan Garbarek, and John McLaughlin), and the ongoing Tabla Beat Science (with Bill Laswell, Ustad Sultan Khan and others) - all of this work has helped Western listeners find a point of entry into Indian classical music.
Zakir studied with his father, the great Ustad Alla Rakha, and was touring by the time he was 13. He has since played with all the master musicians of the Indian classical idiom and, more than any other tabla player, he has opened new ground both inside and outside his tradition, with his capacity to execute complex musical ideas with supreme clarity and his determination to explore all the possibilities offered by his instrument.
Composer Michael Robinson recently asked Zakir Hussain how Indian music has lasted more than a thousand years, both intact and ever-changing. Zakir's reply is illuminating, and parallels with jazz, a younger music, self-evident: "We have a loophole in our music. We are at one time told that we have to be very traditional and maintain the old, do it justice, not water it down. And in the same breath we are told 'and you must improvise'. If you are going to improvise you are going to run into areas which are alien, which are new and fresh. Are they "non-traditional" or "traditional"? The thought is there, and it's one of the reasons this music has survived. We are allowed to create."
Fresh creation inside Lloyd's trio extends to Zakir's very touching singing on "Guman", a song with a message. "It's not a piece purely initiated by me. Eric brings his things to it, the Master brings his things, and I bring mine. I guess in a way it's a prayer for man to recognize that he is only a man. You're not born with the knowledge you have. You learned it from someone, who learned it from someone else. Without the teacher, the guru, you are not who you are. So there is no sense in 'pride'."
Some of the melodies Lloyd offers here we have encountered before: "Little Peace", the oldest of them, goes all the . way back to his 1964 album Discovery!, "Hymn To The Mother"appears on both 1995's All My Relations, and 2002's Lift Every Voice, while "Tales Of Rumi" first surfaced on the Canto album of 1996. All of these pieces are transfigured and transformed in the new trio context, captured for the very first time in this absorbing music from the Lobero Theatre.