Cantois Charles Lloyd's fifth album for ECM and follows Fish Out Of Water(1989), Notes From Big Sur (1991), The Call(1993), and All My Relations (1994). To listen to them in sequence is to trace the development of a band that hasdefined its own style, strongly marked by Lloyd's music of the 1960s, to be sure,but with its own voice for all that; perhaps one could say that the original concepthas matured, as Lloyd's own playing has.What is certain is that the interplay betweenLloyd's alternately lightly-floating and trenchant tenor and Bobo Stenson's extraordinarilysensitive piano work - buoyed by Anders Jormin's strong, patient bass and Billy Hart's percolating percussion - can attain a compelling, almost hypnotic insistency.Lloyd speaks about a desired "weightlessness" as the goal, those moments when themusic slowly unfurls its wings and seems to rise on air currents ... The listenerwill not overlook such moments on Canto.
Lloyd's ECM recordings have met with a very warm reception from the press. America'sStereophile, in fact, declared that "The most important tenor development of the 1990s has beenthe return of Charles Lloyd. No other tenor sax player ranges so freely and boldlyafield. In a single improvisation he can move from hovering filigrees of melodicismto incantations drawn from his 'long tones' to ecstatic repetitions to sounds soft asbreathing. The quality of transcendence in Charles Lloyd's playing has not been heardin jazz since the death of John Coltrane. Like Coltrane, Lloyd finds that place wherecommunication becomes direct." The BBC Music Magazine observed that "Lloyd is unequalled as a purveyor of broodingly majestic anthemic tenor-playing,imbued with an almost Coltrane-like spirituality."
Such reviews are typical. Barely a review of Lloyd in the last decade has omittedreferences to Coltrane and to an elusive "spirituality". Lloyd, certainly, wouldbe the last person to deny his affinity to Coltrane both as a player and exemplar:indeed he testified to this by performing with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones at a JVC FestivalColtrane Tribute a few years back. "For me", he says, "Trane is up there with J.S.Bach." However, the question of shared influences is not to be gainsaid; Lloyd'sballad style, like Coltrane's, owes a debt to the giants who preceded both tenorists - LesterYoung and Coleman Hawkins, for example. By the 60s Lloyd and Coltrane were amongstthe many musicians looking eastward for inspiration musical and philosophical - thedrift toward modal music was one outcome of these interests. But as Down Beat recently observed, Lloyd's bands were always organized quite differently from Coltrane's.In the Lloyd Quartet, then or now, it has never been a question of following thebandleader to the limits of the playable. Roles are assigned more "democratically"perhaps, and freedom of self-expression is encouraged in the interests of a common goal."I don't really assume authorship," Lloyd says. "I'm very proud of my orchestra,but it's not about someone's solo. We play for those miraculous moments when themusic opens up and you know you're home."
As for "spirituality", Lloyd has always been at pains to quote his wide-ranging "sources",as it were. His last album, 1994's All My Relations,was dedicated to his former advisor in such matters, the late Hindu teacher Ritajananda,and concluded with a dedication to Tibetan sage Milarepa. Canto abounds in such references. "Nachiketa's Lament", for example, takes us to the Upanishads and the tale of the boy sacrificed by an unwise father to the God of Death, very plaintivelyilluminated by Lloyd upon the Tibetan oboe. The album opens with "Tales Of Rumi",inspired by the writings of the 13th century Afghan-born Sufi poet and philosopher Jalaluddin Rumi. Amongst his many other distinctions Rumi was an early enemy ofthe personality cult: "Do not look at my outward form, but take what is in my hand."In this connection, one might recall that very little discussion of the "Lloyd phenomenon" of the 60s focussed on the music. Wearying of the media's obsession with his lifestyle,Lloyd quit the touring circuit at the height of his fame, and stayed away from it- barring a very brief burst of activity in the early 80s - for almost 20 years.
His "comeback", on ECM, has been largely in the company of some "icily eloquent Scandinavianmusicians" (to quote Down Beat). Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson has been the inner architect of the quartet's musicfor a decade. Fellow Swede Anders Jormin has been Lloyd's bassist of choice since1991; his underpinning and anchoring of the collective sound has contributed to theQuartet's consistent level of achievement. Jormin's role has gained in prominence with eachrelease, and he has the first musical statement on Canto, establishing the emotional climate of "Tales Of Rumi." Other Scandinavians who havepassed through the Quartet's line-up have included bassist Palle Danielsson and drummersJon Christensen and Audun Kleive (the latter on the road only). The corralling of Nordic talent is neither accidental nor entirely conditional on ECM's preferred recordinglocations. The influence of the original Lloyd Quartet (with Jarrett, McBee, DeJohnette)on an entire generation of players in the Far North is one of the under-documented undercurrents of the new Scandinavian music. The old Lloyd group recorded twoof its albums live in Scandinavia (Charles Lloyd In Europeand The Flowering) and the young musicians of the day monitored its progress avidly."The Swedes arethe exact cats to be with me," Lloyd told the Santa Barbara Independent."They were brought up on our stuff. They have a simpatico."
While Bobo Stenson's early playing was influenced by Keith Jarrett's precocious workwith Lloyd, this was but one element in an exceptionally broad palette that the pianisthas continued to refine over the years. His investigations of, for example, MiddleEastern music with Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz have given a particular authorityto his playing in modal areas. This was one of the reasons why, for example, DonCherry loved Stenson's playing and its relevance to Lloyd's music is obvious, butone can point as well to a profound knowledge of the entire modern jazz tradition. His wide-rangingactivities have included tours with Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins, trailblazingwork in Swedish jazz with Bernt Rosengren, co-leadership of the popular Jan Garbarek-Bobo Stenson Quartet (Witchi-Tai-To, Dansere) in the 1970s. He currently splits his time between Lloyd's band, his own trio withAnders Jormin and Jon Christensen (Reflections), and the Tomasz Stanko Quartet (Mattka Joanna, Leosia).
"Billy's the best", says Lloyd of Billy Hart - a special recommendation from a musicianwho has played with some mighty drummers including Chico Hamilton, Elvin Jones, TonyWilliams, Jack DeJohnette, Roy Haynes and Billy Higgins. "In this music Billy Hartsometimes has to be the drum choir of the universe, the rhythm of the world. He'snot about keeping time." Hart's creativity has been celebrated by many bandleaders,among them McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders and Cecil Taylor. Hart was a founder memberof the Mingus Dynasty and has also recorded as a leader in his own right.
Lloyd's odyssey has been recounted often enough to require little recapitulation here.The early years in Memphis, the solid basis in the blues earned by working with Howlin'Wolf, B.B. King and others, the woodshedding with Booker Little and Phineas Newborn, the jam sessions with Ornette, Dolphy, Cherry, the years of touring with CannonballAdderley and Chico Hamilton ... the pre-"success" years by themselves comprise abook's worth of anecdotal material. On the recorded evidence it is clear enough thatLloyd's progress as a player has been a steady climb. As a musician, he is still goingup, which cannot be said for many contemporaries who have survived, but only just,the jazz life.
Lloyd calls one particularly affecting ballad on Canto"Desolation Sound". This is also the name of the stretch of water north of Vancouverfirst charted by the HMS Discovery in search of the North West Passage. The originaltravellers were oppressed by its "awful silence" and "rugged rocks and precipices".The sense of "desolation" Lloyd invokes in his more inner-directed solos has a positiveconnotation. As Josef Woodard wrote of an earlier Lloyd performance: "The long tonesproceed with such smouldering slowness, emerging from repose to search and aspire.The tonal atmosphere is so rapt, so focussed on the quest for an inner path, that nothingdisturbs the stillness."