…day to youuuuuuuuuuuuuu.
I was lucky enough to catch Charles Lloyd on Friday. It wasn’t easy, let me tell you. I got the third to last ticket, standing room only. Despite the New York Times profile on it (which I read by chance, I don’t really follow the Times’ music news), it was a rather underground gig. The crowd, although packed, looked like more of an upper East side/Met membership crowd, rather than a Charles Lloyd crowd. If you had told me that they were on their way to see some Haydn with period instruments, I would have believed you.
I say that only because of what the usual crowds of 70-80 year old musicians look like. When I saw Billy Hart yesterday, for example, there were the Dizzy-ites, people looking for a nice meal and some Jazz music, and the student contingent, hovering around Billy after the gig, but there were also the grizzled vets, people that you see at a lot of shows with musicians that are Billy’s age. They’re usually musicians themselves, or occasionally fans and collectors that follow the music with a fervor that doesn’t exist much these days. I have a friend from Washington DC who hasn’t played trumpet since he was 15, but was great friends with all of the DC musicians, Andrew White, Billy, and the rest of the DC-Baltimore crew. He remembers having conversations with Eric Dolphy and seeing Trane live. There weren’t any people like that at Charles’ gig.
The first thing I noticed was that I will not be having my birthday party at the Temple of Dendur. The floor, ceiling, and three walls are made of polished stone, and the fourth wall is made of glass interwoven with steel. It’s a huge room, and there’s also a massive stone structure in the middle of it. Not exactly acoustically accommodating. The poor little Bose towers they had set up weren’t cutting at all. I could hear in my head what Jason Moran’s tone and attack sounded like, but the sound I heard from the stage wasn’t cutting it.
The second thing I noticed was Lloyd’s preference for playing with a drummer. The first four tunes were duo with Jason, two of Ellington’s and a spiritual. Charles’ playing was pretty languid, from where I was sitting. It’s possible that his tone was masterful, but there was no way I could get any of that in the audience. His phrasing was pretty middle of the road, and some of the techniques he was using seemed a little bit tired to me.
Jason sounded great as always, playing a mix of Ellington’s original voicings and his own sound, something that becomes more and more defined the more I see him. He definitely has his own language and sound that is becoming more and more recognizable. The highlight was his solo on “Mood Indigo”, which became a Fats Waller-ish exploration mixed with some displacement and reharmonization in Moran’s style. He always interjects with some surprising material when he improvises, and never allows the listener to be complacent. Needless to say, I like him quite a bit.
When the quartet came onstage, however, Lloyd became a new man. Growling and squeaking, and playing unpredictably, he was darting in and out of ideas in a way that was totally absent in the first half of the set. The band sounded very comfortable playing behind him, Reuben and Harland settling into a nice groove on every tune, doing a great job at setting an appropriate tone for Charles. I also noticed that they really played the crap out of that modal, churning style of music. It’s possible that I don’t see the concerts that are playing out of that tradition, but it was the dark, steady modal playing of people like late Sam Rivers, not necessarily out of the Trane tradition. Slightly more darkly mysterious than Freddie or Joe Henderson, perhaps.
That’s when the gig changed pace a bit. Alicia Hall Moran came out and sang “Go Down Moses” I can’t say I was too into it, although Jason pulled as much music as he could from the tune. I didn’t know this was an African American spiritual,
Then, the Greek singer Maria Farantouri and her Lyra player came out, Charles switched to alto flute, and I had to leave. The lyra player (basically a Mediterranean viola, from what I could see) added an interesting timbre to the stage, but I’m not sure how sold I was on the whole concept. Charles liked it though, and it was his birthday, so there you go. The singer was pretty amazing technically, a huge tone and great diction, which is something I don’t notice often.
I did learn something that interested me at the concert, however, that Charles’ mentor was Booker Little, one of my all-time favorites. It’s interesting to think of Booker as a mentor, seeing as he died at 26, but if his personality was as mature as his playing, it all makes sense. It also raises the question of what was in the water in Memphis during the time those two and Phineas Newborn were coming up. The three of them are quite disparate artists, but they are all at a high level technically, and all gained success very soon after coming to New York.
It’s also interesting to note the understated importance of Chico Hamilton, in whose band Charles replaced Dolphy after Eric left to join Mingus. I don’t have any of those records, but there’s no question that Chico knew how to pick them.
The final thing that interested me is that when they played “The Star-Crossed Lovers” Charles announced it “Pretty Girl”, which I’ve always known as a sub-title. He made the audience very aware that it was Strayhorn that wrote it, so maybe Ellington’s title was “Star-Crossed Lovers” and Strayhorn’s was “Pretty Girl”.
I’m glad I went. It’s not every day you get to see a new 75 year old musical legend.
The more I focus on music the less I focus on writing, but I will definitely be going to and reporting back on the Paul Motian concert at Symphony Space on the 22nd of March. You should all go, the personnel are ridiculous.
“They see music as this giant that keeps growing and pushes everything else out.” —Billy Hart on how family members view musicians