Natural Mystic

Charles Lloyd Quartet

At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, September 15.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Charles Lloyd gave his adopted hometown an insider’s preview of the main attraction at this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival. He performed at the Lobero last Friday with the same quartet he would use the next night in Monterey to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his classic live recording Forest Flower. Lloyd considers the Lobero his home these days — his most recent album with his other group, Sangam, was recorded live there just two years ago. Many of the friends and fans who were present at that show in 2004 were back this time to help Santa Barbara’s best-known jazz musician celebrate his more than 40 years in music. Lloyd’s quartet, which features Geri Allen on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums, swept easily through a broad range of compositions, including substantial selections from Forest Flower, which remains both Lloyd’s biggest seller and a source of endlessly renewable musical joy.

The first thing that stands out about Lloyd’s playing is his unique tone. There’s a breathy, sinuous quality to his tenor playing that allows listeners to identify him instantly. As a rule Lloyd works particularly well with gifted pianists and drummers, and Friday night was no exception. Geri Allen generated an Ellingtonian sense of color and orchestral swing at the keyboard, while Eric Harland erupted at the traps with an array of rimshots and cowbells that evoked both New Orleans and New York.

As a composer, Lloyd knows how to make great intuitive matches between disparate styles, an unusual attribute in today’s jazz world. Now on ECM Records, Lloyd represents a potent blend of the soulful Atlantic Records sound with the modality and spirituality associated with music recorded on Impulse. The result is a compelling mix of mid- to late-Coltrane saxophone and Mingus by way of Ellington arrangements. The approach that Allen and Lloyd took to “Sombrero Sam,” a Woody Herman piece that was on the original Forest Flower, sang and swung and spun just like one of Charlie Mingus’s magical Tijuana Moods.

The ambient graces of the jazz gods were everywhere as Lloyd blew through the two-part “Forest Flower” suite, and then returned with an encore of “You Are So Beautiful,” a fitting conclusion to a blissful evening of great contemporary jazz.

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