Charles Lloyd New Quartet. At the Lobero Theatre, Sunday, June 1

Charles Lloyd has never sounded better, whether it is on tenor sax (pictured), alto sax, flute, or even piano.
Paul Wellman

Charles Lloyd is in top form, and this may be his best quartet ever, which is saying quite a lot. Made up of Eric Harland on drums, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Lloyd’s latest discovery, the amazing Jason Moran on piano, the “New Quartet” has the depth, grace, and indefinable allure of a classic group on the order of John Coltrane’s 1960s quartet, or the bands that Miles Davis put together in the 1950s and ’60s.

Opening with a clutch of songs from their recent live release, Rabo de Nube, Lloyd and the New Quartet found immediate rapport with each other and with the audience. Lloyd’s opening solo reached for the pulsating mainstream of bebop while maintaining the tonal sophistication of the avant-garde and the lyrical beauty of classic ballad playing. Moran mixed things up from the keyboards, with a dazzling initial offering of rhythmic playing restricted primarily to the black keys, which then opened up into an Ellingtonian brand of blues. On the flute, Lloyd’s first excursion recalled Eric Dolphy at the same time that the composition reflected the influence of Thelonious Monk. Rogers took a gorgeous solo during the flute number, as did Harlan. Once again, Moran shone at the piano, injecting the proceedings with a carnivalesque flair that pushed everyone to new heights of improvisation.

The music, which eventually grew to include Lloyd soloing on the t¡rogat³, never flagged as the night built steadily in emotional intensity. Lloyd talked about the trials of touring and the thrill of bringing this group to his home, where they all reportedly “took their shoes off”-“a good sign,” according to Lloyd. On the first encore, “Passing Through,” the 70-year-old saxophonist executed a couple of his characteristic right knee kicks-a sure sign that he was having a good night as well. When the final encore found Lloyd at the piano alongside Moran, playing a little and reciting the Bhagavad-Gita from memory, the sacred energy that had been released was sealed, and the evening was blessed.


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