Review: Charles Lloyd & Lovano/Douglas

Garry Booth enjoys the rambunctious Lovano/Douglas group and the spiritually refreshing Charles Lloyd on the closing night of the EFG London Jazz Festival

We’ve come to expect the EFG London Jazz Festival to finish with a knock-out show and this year the killer blow was delivered by the tenor-sax double bill of Charles Lloyd and Joe Lovano.

The pairing of tenor titan Lovano (pictured right) with trumpet player Dave Douglas (pictured below left), plus rambunctious Joey Baron in the traps, would usually suggest a tough, post-modern, cosmopolitan affair. This group, Sound Prints, certainly delivered on that front despite taking their inspiration from the more tender musings of Footprints-era Wayne Shorter. Shorter himself approves of their treatment, however, going so far as to contribute two compositions to the set, Destination Unknown and To Sail Beyond The Sunset, with its glorious fanfares and satisfying resolution.

The leaders resembled a couple of likeable villains from the set of a Jim Jarmusch movie, stout Lovano in loud shirt and pork pie hat, Douglas in comedy shades, newsboy cap and tight-fitting suit. Longtime collaborators, they play together as if having a good-natured argument while out on a walk, first declaiming loudly at one another then finding accord. Mischievous drummer Joey Baron dropped bombs and splashed among the cymbals behind, while elegant pianist (and Berklee alumni) Laurence Fields kept a respectful distance. Feisty, Malaysian-born Linda Oh showed why she’s emerging as a bassist to follow on the New York jazz scene.

Seventy-six-year-old Charles Lloyd (pictured below right) never ceases to amaze. As the recent biopic Arrows To Infinity reminds, Lloyd has sustained his incredible creative energy across half a century (notwithstanding the occasional spiritual retreat), putting together exciting new groups and, in recent years, making a series of blissful albums for ECM.

This latest touring project, The Wild Man Dance Suite, is a special commission written by Lloyd for American and European musicians and the long-form piece features Socratis Sinopolous playing a Greek lyra and Miklos Lukacs on Hungarian cimbalom. Lloyd’s latest quartet – sparkling young pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Eric Harland – complete the line-up.

A concert-hammered dulcimer (played with two beaters) paired with lyra viol wouldn’t be everyone’s obvious choice of counterpoint to Lloyd’s reverie-inducing, wispy tenor lines – but it worked beautifully: the tiny, bowed lyra had a plaintive, almost human voice and the Third Man sound of the cymbalom brought in noir-like tension.

Lloyd himself is masterful, stalking the stage in crumpled, powder grey three-piece topped by fedora, easing his tenor lines out of silence into a deep flowing river of ideas, the solo passages drawing only tentative applause from an audience unwilling to break the spell.

Staying east for a rapturous encore, the old dreamweaver first produced a Hungarian tarogato (a mournful single-reed horn not unlike a clarinet) and then the flute, finally reeling us all in with a softly spoken spiritual narrative. Improvised jazz can sometimes have a draining, cathartic effect: a Charles Lloyd concert like this leaves you feeling joyful, spiritually refreshed.

Photos by John Watson

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