Blue Note Records B002427702
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd has played in a number of unique lineups, including an early stint as music director for drummer Chico Hamilton’s group in 1960, which included the Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó. Szabó’s distinctive style employed single-note runs that showed a rock influence and he often used open strings to create a drone effect. Bill Frisell has mentioned him as an influence, and Frisell is one of the guitarists in the Marvels. Steel guitarist Greg Leisz is the other, and together with the rest of Lloyd’s new group they create haunting, often ethereal music that embraces blues and country while retaining the complexity of jazz.

I Long to See You opens with a mournful version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” Leisz’s sustained lines snake around Frisell’s single-note runs and chord washes, and both guitarists weave a tapestry for Lloyd’s impassioned reading of the melody. The saxophonist builds on the main theme with long, quick runs and quieter, more introspective variations. Drummer Eric Harland gives the tune its rhythmic drive with cymbal splashes and dramatic rolls, while bassist Reuben Rogers anchors the track.

I Long to See You

Harland also propels Lloyd’s “Of Course, Of Course,” where Frisell comps in as close to a traditional jazz style as I have ever heard from him, and provides Leisz with a luxurious background to play flowing lines. Leisz plays beautifully in harmony with Lloyd’s flute, and Rogers gives the Latin-jazz-styled tune its bounce. Lloyd provides Frisell a long feature to open “La Llorona” before entering with a moving and understated recitation of the melody that builds in emotional effect.

Willie Nelson guests on the anti-war “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” and his sad and weary tone lends the song a feeling of both wisdom and sorrow that Lloyd echoes in his solo. Norah Jones sings “You Are So Beautiful,” but Lloyd and the band set the tone of the song so effectively that the track doesn’t sound like a mere star turn for her.

I Long to See You closes with “Barche Lamsel,” a meditative 16-minute track based on a Buddhist prayer. Frisell and Leisz create the haunting backdrop for Lloyd’s ruminative melodies on both saxophone and flute. The song seamlessly flows into different rhythmic and thematic sections, shifting from modal jazz to funk and blues. It is a moving, engaging tune that never loses its focus.

While I have called attention to Lloyd, Frisell, and Leisz, I found that it was Harland and Rogers who often impressed me most. The drummer’s sense of drama and his use of cymbals and dynamics give I Long to See You its rhythmic drive and emotional power. Rogers plays fluid, melodic lines that enrich the arrangements harmonically and give structure to the other musicians.

Dominic Camardella engineered the disc and Bernie Grundman mastered it, and the sound is organic and spacious, with each instrument registering clearly in a deep soundstage.

Lloyd has played in many settings, including on pop recordings by the Beach Boys and the Doors, and he has always looked for ways to challenge himself and expand his reach. At 77, he plays with the energy and inventiveness of a much younger man. This band gives him rich possibilities for improvisation on I Long to See You and he runs with them every time.

. . . Joseph Taylor