Charles Lloyd Quartet
Recorded December 2009
Santa Barbara Sound Design
When Charles Lloyd showcased his quartet in a live setting on 2008's Rabo de Nube, it was one of the more exciting, free-flowing dates of that year. It was physical, full of intense engagement and fiery energy. On that date, he performed a number of tunes he'd recorded before, along with new compositions. Mirror, recorded with the same band - drummer Eric Harland, pianist Jason Moran, and bassist Reuben Rogers - in a Santa Barbara studio, is, as the title suggests, a mirror image of the previous outing. Here too, the saxophonist revisits some older material with, thanks in large part to his sidemen, new ears. The material is mostly gently swinging ballads and outre investigations showcasing an even more spiritual side to Lloyd's playing and arranging. But it also displays the great intuitive nuances this band is capable of. While the set opens with an elegant and gently swinging reading of the standard "I Fall in Love Too Easily," it's the follow-up, the spiritual "Go Down Moses," that showcases the group's persona with its modal, questioning concerns, while keeping the tune firmly in the church. The title track appeared on 1989's Canto, and is here performed with the kind of deep commitment and sense of interdependent energy only time and wisdom can impart. Another tune from that album, "Desolation Sound," while still a ballad, features a lot more engagement from the players here: Moran's solo looks in and through the changes to find a way outside and gets there. Harland's shimmering breaks add more crackle than on the original. Likewise, "The Water Is Wide" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing" are performed, in their restrained way, more energetically than they were on their respective albums. One of Mirror's great surprises is a tender reading of the Beach Boys' "Caroline, No." While the melody is inescapable, Lloyd very quickly transforms it into a jazz ballad of haunting, romantic beauty. On a pair of Monk tunes here - "Ruby, My Dear" and "Monk's Mood" - Moran's own musical personality is given free rein. He expresses it with his deft senses of rhythmic and harmonic intuition, underscoring unexpected phrases and elaborating on others. Ultimately, Mirror is another Lloyd triumph. It may not shake the rafters with its kinetics, but it does dazzle with the utterly symbiotic interplay between leader and sidemen.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)
"Charles is playing really beautiful," Ornette Coleman says, in the documentary film "The Monk and the Mermaid". "He's expressing the qualities of what we experience. Trying to make a contribution to the quality of life, to do with knowledge." The knowledge, experience, or wisdom conveyed through Lloyd's tender saxophone soliloquies has drawn great musicians to him over the decades, and contributed to a reputation as one of the most insightful band leaders in all of jazz. Those qualities are reflected once more in "Mirror", which is perhaps as succinct a portrait of Charles Lloyd's music as can be embraced by a single disc.
"Charles approaches the music with such openness", pianist Jason Moran said recently. "I like playing with leaders who let you bring what you've got to the table, and interpret the music however you'd like. Charles is a great promoter of free-thinking music, and letting it develop on the spot."
"Mirror" is the first studio album by the Lloyd-Moran-Rogers-Harland unit and it features beautiful, transformed versions of favourites including both Lloyd originals and tunes Charles has made his own over the years. There is a pair of Thelonious Monk tunes, "Ruby, My Dear" and "Monk's Mood", as well as hymns and traditionals including "Go Down Moses", "Lift Every Voice And Sing", and "The Water Is Wide". Lloyd covers Brian Wilson's' "Caroline, No" (the saxophonist guested on several Beach Boys albums in the 70s, including the classic "Surf's Up"), and plays an achingly lovely version of the standard "I Fall In Love Too Easily". Lloyd originals include "Desolation Sound", "Mirror", "Tagi" (which includes a Bhagavad Gita-inspired spoken-word meditation by Lloyd) and "Being and Becoming".
There is plenty of Lloyd's graceful, mellifluous and poetic tenor sax: We also get to hear some of his rarely-showcased alto saxophone, the instrument that Billy Higgins called Charles' "secret weapon".
Many critics have opined that Lloyd's "New Quartet", with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland may be the best of all his groups. The quartet's previous release in this line-up, the live-recorded "Rabo de Nube", met with across-the-board approval and was voted #1 album of the year in both the Critics and Readers Polls of Jazz Times.
The band plays superbly. Interaction between Jason Moran and the elastic rhythm section of Harland and Rogers is agile and alert in every moment. None of these three players, completely in tune with Lloyd's way of working, was born when Charles had his idiomatic breakthrough with "Forest Flower" in 1967. Moran recalls that his father encouraged him to listen to "Forest Flower" when he was just starting to check out jazz, and the album was part of the soundtrack of his childhood.
Reuben Rogers was born in the Virgin Islands and grew up listening to calypso and reggae as well as jazz, exposure that seems to have impacted on the lyrical dancing swing of his bass playing. He works exceptionally well with Harland, exploring loose grooves behind Lloyd 's solos, and speaks of the joy of "being in the music in the moment," when the Lloyd band is improvising collectively, "without any worries, just giving it all." A much sought after sideman, Reuben has also worked extensively with Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman, Dianne Reeves and more.
Eric Harland is increasingly regarded as one of the most important contemporary jazz drummers. In addition to his work with Lloyd in the quartet and in the Sangam trio (with Zakir Hussain) he has played and recorded with McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Greg Osby, Dave Holland and many others.