Charles Lloyd

Saturday, November 20, 2021
Barbican Hall, London

Guest Reviewer, Julian Maynard-Smith

Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd (tenor saxophone, alto flute, tárogató), Gerald Clayton
(piano), Reuben Rogers (double bass) & Kendrick Scott (drums)


Nérija: Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Rosie Turton (slide trombone), Cassie Kinoshi (alto
saxophone), Josephine Davies (tenor saxophone, flute), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Rio Kai
(double bass, electric bass) & Lizy Exell (drums)


Opening this performance was Nérija, a septet originating from the Female
Collective, an ensemble within Tomorrow’s Warriors whose objective is to help young
women break into jazz. They were an all-female group until 2018, when Rio Kai replaced
Inga Eichler on bass. The fact that ‘only man in the group’ is noteworthy is a stark reminder
that, excluding singers, jazz is still perceived as a largely male art form. It’s a misperception
that Tomorrow’s Warriors is working hard, and successfully, to overcome – Nérija’s original
tenor saxophonist (replaced by Josephine Davies) is Nubya Garcia, who debuted her band in
grand style with an entire evening’s performance at the 2021 BBC Proms in the Royal Albert
Hall.


The moment the music started, gender became irrelevant. So too did genre, because although
each member has a side project the performance meshed into a consistent style somewhere
between British jazz, Afrobeat and highlife – rhythmic, bright, cheerful – with all tunes (apart
from ‘Where It Ends’, commissioned by Serious Music) taken from the group’s 2019 album
Blume. Everyone except drummer Lizy Exell took a solo, giving plenty of chances to hear
each person’s style. It was disappointing that every tune followed the format of head played
largely in unison followed by extended vamps with a single soloist on top – a septet could
have offered so many opportunities for complex harmonisation, call and response, and other
ways of adding variety. That said, Nérija is a fine showcase for emerging talent and we’re
likely to hear more from its current (and possibly future) members.


Charles Lloyd’s quartet – wow! As the music writer and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre
astutely observed when introducing the band, Charles Lloyd has been a musician for so long
that you can talk about periods: the fifties playing with saxophone iconoclasts Ornette
Coleman and Eric Dolphy amongst others; the sixties playing with musicians as diverse as
Cannonball Adderley and the Beach Boys, and forming his classic quartet with Keith Jarrett,
Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette; a lacuna during the seventies when he almost completely
left jazz before he was coaxed out of retirement by the pianist Michel Petrucciani and he
formed another notable quartet, this time with pianist Bobo Stenson; and a long and fruitful
association with ECM Records starting in 1989 followed by yet further successes on Blue
Note from 2015 to the present day.


Seeing Lloyd walk briskly on stage with his white beard, trademark woollen cap and dark
round glasses it was hard to think that he’s now eighty-three. But when he put his mouth to
his horn, you could hear what’s matured over sixty-plus years of playing professionally: a
tone, a voice, that’s recognisable within seconds. Any suspicion that this octogenarian will
‘go gentle into that good night’ was dispelled by his Coletrainian sheets of sound on the
openers ‘The Dirge’ and ‘Dream Weaver’ – yet he often played with great tenderness too, his
astonishing ability to caress and sculpt each note especially noticeable on the delicate ballad
‘Dwija’.


Gerald Clayton (piano), Reuben Rogers (double bass) and Kendrick Scott (drums) all shone,
creating a thrilling and dense mesh of harmonies and polyrhythms on the more intense,
beseeching tunes – and gossamer sensitivity on the quieter ones. All three played stunning
solos; and Clayton’s unaccompanied piano solo on ‘La Llorona’ was an exquisite master-class in classically infused European-style jazz that slowly morphed into a trio performance with Rogers and Scott, before Lloyd rejoined for a sumptuous finish topped off by the almost inevitable standing ovation and encore.


And a generous encore it was too, full of new timbres. On ‘Nachiketa’s Lament’ Lloyd
played tárogató, a single-reed instrument with a conical bore associated with the music of
Hungary and Romania; its plaintive and nasal sound (somewhat like a cross between a cor
anglais and soprano saxophone) fitted well with a lament. On ‘Hymn to the Mother’, Lloyd
switched to playing piano while Clayton plucked and strummed the strings inside the piano to
eerie effect, before Lloyd spoke mystical words on meditation, peace and happiness (the one
and only time he spoke during the concert – no band introductions or tune announcements!).
Then it was back to tenor saxophone for the quartet’s jaunty closer ‘Sun Dance’ – a bright
send-off into the November night that the audience cheered with a second standing ovation.