By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
”A man tells his personal truth, with such loving passion and honesty and intelligence and fire, and ecclesiastical everything-he‘s-got, on his knees. And it transforms the mundane, it transforms the molecules.“
Charles Lloyd. Improvising.
”There is no time, there is now. When I hear these guys playing in the now, when I hear Yardbird goin’ through there with brilliance at the speed of light, and modulating in all kinds of ultrapolations and interpolations and all kinds of semidemiquavers and all kinds of beauty, what is that? It‘s kind of like the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita.“
Lloyd’s voice drops down and he pelts it out: ”‘He knows bliss in the Atman and wants nothing else. Cravings torment the heart. He renounces cravings. I called him illumined, not shaken by adversity, not hankerin’ after happiness, free from fear, free from anger, free from greed, free from things of desire.‘
“When I play, time, it goes away, and the music is all that’s going on. There‘s this vacuum state where you go to quantum mechanics, where before the creative process there’s this trembling being, this quality of the infinite elixirs of the unmanifest, the absolute, before the absolute comes into the relative. That‘s the thing that I have adoration for. We live for these times when the music happens and we’re whole.”
The incantatory way he talks, in those light Memphis rhythms 34 it almost seems that Lloyd is not speaking to me; it‘s more like a vernacular prayer in which we’re both participants. His speech, in other words, is like his music. He doesn‘t do many interviews, claiming, as one who communicates through his sax or flute, that he’s unskilled with words. He‘s wrong, though.
“This cruel world is not set up for you to sing your song. So we’re going to sing it anyway. We make a direct connection with the Man, and render unto God what‘s God’s, and render unto Caesar what‘s Caesar’s. But Caesar can‘t come in there, because you hear the sound, and Brahman is in the sound.
”When I grew up, all the old-timers told you, ’You‘ve got to have your own sound 34 but you won’t have the real stuff for 20, 30 years.‘ It’s in your mind‘s ear. It’s like a Holy Grail--type thing. I‘m gonna fess up, I don’t have it to this day.“
Mr. Lloyd may believe he hasn‘t perfected his sound, but whatever sound he’s got, it‘s deep, as deep as anybody’s, and it keeps getting better. Listening to some of his ‘60s recordings 34 Dream Weaver, Forest Flower, Journey Within and more, which sold in rock-star quantities at the time 34 I hear passion, beauty and a searching soul. But in the way he plays today, I hear those things, and beyond the search there’s more finding, more arrival, more peace. The process is never complete, of course.
”The sound is like a carrot on a stick. The closer you get to it, then He‘ll move it. If I had it, I’d plain lay down. I‘d go back into the forest. ’Cause I don‘t think there’s a reason to stay around here, with the level of ignorance that exists on this planet, unless you can do some serious service.“
Service he has done. Lloyd‘s music has never been just a way to make a living; it’s a pathway to . . . well, you heard him. And he wants to keep the path clear. When he speaks of going back into the forest, it‘s not a metaphor. In 1969, year of Woodstock and Altamont, he disbanded the famous quartet he’d formed with Keith Jarrett (piano), Jack DeJohnette (drums) and Cecil McBee or Ron McClure (bass) well before they‘d milked out their udder, and he ”got off the bus,“ going into seclusion in Malibu and then Big Sur. He wouldn’t return to full-time performing and recording for nearly 20 years.
”My mother had just died, and things were gettin‘ kind of harsh. They’d killed Dr. King, the climate was changing, there was a polarity of people losing that kind of fortitude that it takes to be a warrior for peace. I went to work on myself, so that I would be more equipped to serve the Creator and music and mankind, and I had to face the mirror of my own inadequacies.“
After that period of reflection, 1989 saw the first fruits of a love match with the Munich label ECM and its guiding light, Manfred Eicher. The pairing, Lloyd suggests, was more than a coincidence; he feels that Eicher‘s famous aesthetic of spare beauty derives in part from the seeds the windman blew with him when he toured Europe several times in the ’60s. So hooking up with ECM was almost a reunion, a family tie re-established.
The Water Is Wide, the latest of the seven albums Lloyd has made for the label, revives another old connection: with Los Angeles. Lloyd lived here for several years beginning in 1956; it was during that time that he met Billy Higgins, and he and the drummer have been close ever since. Eicher, having observed how naturally the two collaborated on the 1997 soundtrack to the Alan Rudolph film Afterglow and on last year‘s deeply soulful ECM recording Voice in the Night, suggested they do a special project together; he even made the unusual concession of letting Lloyd and his wife, artist Dorothy Darr, act as producers.
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