With his new group, The Marvels, Charles Lloyd has got both the name and the time right. The name fits because this collection of musicians — guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland — really is marvelous and beyond compare in its hybrid idiom of free jazz, rock, and Americana. The time is right because, especially with the addition of Lucinda Williams on vocals, the group speaks directly to the current national predicament. While riding on a groove of hope and joy, this music dares to challenge the darker side of authority, and the at-capacity crowd at the Lobero last Monday responded with fervor to its call.
For the first half of the single, long set, the band stretched out on a series of buoyant instrumentals, including a touching rendition of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room.” Lloyd, Frisell, and Leisz communicate with extraordinary empathy, with ideas running back and forth until call and response merges into a single, impassioned voice. Once Lucinda Williams joined them, the focus shifted from heavenly music to earthly concerns and reached a climax of purposeful protest on Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” which Williams sang with ferocity.
If we are ever going to reach the promised land implied by a tune such as “Shenandoah” — which the group played to open the night — it’s going to take the determination exhibited not only in “Masters of War” but also in Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which Williams introduced by saying, “This song has never been more relevant than it is now.” Amen to that and to this important group. For his part, Lloyd was in fine form on sax and flute, and charged with energy, even when he was listening to Frisell and shaking his maracas. Let’s hope he continues to do it all for a long time to come. We need him now.