Tag Archives: The Water Is Wide



It’s always exciting to hear an artist perform if you have interviewed them, and I had spent an hour and a half on the phone to Charles Lloyd. So I was ready for this concert — just not ready enough to be early, so the usual parking scramble ensued.

Andrea Keller Quartet
Andrea Keller Quartet

The opening, all-too-short set was exactly what was needed. Keller aired some beautifully crafted and melodic compositions with the help of Ian Whitehurst on tenor sax, Eugene Ball on trumpet and Simon Barker on drums. There was plenty of space in these pieces, suiting the venue, and the piano held sway (why do I say it that way if music is not a contest?). The horns were aptly understated and Barker displayed his usual finesse.

I always think it is a significant loss when patrons don’t bother to turn up until the main event, so to speak. The local support bands are almost always excellent. And this opening set was enticingly bewitching, so that Keller’s mob of Aussies could have played on and we wouldn’t have been too upset … well, a little, perhaps.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Charles Lloyd New Quartet

On Day 5 of this festival, at the Australian Art Orchestra’s tribute to Miles Davis, a member of the audience from Adelaide enthused about the Charles Lloyd New Quartet concert. He said there was something special about the performance, that Lloyd “had an aura about him”.

Often in interviews Lloyd describes himself as “a dreamer”. “I’m born into the world, but I don’t really fit into it,” he says. And there is a sense that, as the title of the quartet’s first encore piece on Tuesday night suggested, he is just Passin’ Thru. Other pieces played — Prayer, Dream Weaver: Meditation, Requiem, Booker’s Garden, The Water is Wide and the closing Silvio Rodriguez composition Rabo De Nube (tail of a cloud) — all point to Lloyd’s head space, to where he’s at, so to speak.

As the notes of Prayer floated across the auditorium, serenity seemed to settle on those assembled. When Lloyd spoke, it with his characteristic grace and humility. “We are honoured to be here. We don’t understand the planet or how they’ve worked the game out, but we still want to play this music,” he said.

Lloyd Quartet
Charles Lloyd plays, Reuben Rogers listens

Lloyd’s playing, on tenor sax and alto flute, was sublime. He is obviously in the moment and being guided by what wells up within him as well as what Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on acoustic bass and Eric Harland on drums were bringing — and that was plenty. But Lloyd may play a little in the way he talks, which is to be open to ideas that flow in and be ready to follow. Occasionally he loses his way. How would I really know if that happens when he plays, but on one instance in one piece — perhaps Booker’s Garden — I did think it was beautiful, but was drifting around for a while rather than going anywhere.

Charles Lloyd New Quartet
Reuben Rogers

One thing I liked particularly was the spring in Lloyd’s step when he returned to play after solos by Moran (absolutely outstanding) and Rogers. It was great to feel the swing creep in so gently to the music and to note how little it took for Lloyd to almost imperceptibly introduce that tiny swing feel that transformed the music. Harland helped, of course. As Lloyd mentioned in his BMW Edge Masterclass, Tommy Dorsey is famous for saying “Nice guys are a dime a dozen. Give me a prick who swings.”

Jason Moran
Sound seeker: Lloyd listens, Jason Moran plays

Space is vital in music, and this quartet demonstrated that so well. A pause can say so much. It can create such expectation that it makes you will the music to continue and that gives energy and drive. This band was so great. They worked together so well, demonstrating that Lloyd being a few years more advanced in age was no impediment.

And they took us away to a higher plane for a sweet while. Rabo De Nube, Lloyd said in my interview, “translates as ‘I wish I could be the tail of a cloud and come down to wash away your tears.’”

They did.

[My thanks to intrepid music writer and broadcaster Jessica Nicholas for passing on the set list]



Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd: I’m going to sing my song anyway

A spiritual man is blowing his horn to try to save the world, Roger Mitchell discovers

CHASING Charles Lloyd is like grabbing at the tail of a cloud. You can barely grasp his idea before the alert 72-year-old saxophonist and flautist has floated away to a new insight.

“I’m a dreamer. I’m born into the world, but I don’t really fit into it,” Lloyd says by phone from his hilltop property in Montecito, California.

But the Memphis-born musician, who at age 10 used to play in a West Memphis roadhouse where Elvis Presley parked his ice truck and came in “to hear the real stuff”, rarely forgets to answer a question. He just gets sidetracked often on the way to an answer.

On the Friday after 9/11, Lloyd’s quartet opened a delayed Bluenote concert with Cuban Silvio Rodriguez’ song Rabo de Nube, the title track from Lloyd’s most recent album.

“The song translates as ‘I wish I could be the tail of a cloud and come down to wash away your tears’”, Lloyd recalls. “When we played that, people were teary, because it’s a very moving song.”

Lloyd, who is bringing his young quartet — pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer/percussionist Eric Harland — to Melbourne for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, is deeply committed to making the world a better place, and he feels its pain.

“After 9/11 I went home and I was hurting and I went quiet and all of a sudden these old spirituals started coming through me from my childhood,” Lloyd recalls. “I saw the second plane hit. I’m still damaged by that. I saw people jumping out of windows … So I went home and I started playing all these old spirituals … I called the musicians and we all went in the studio and started stirring up the soup.”

Lloyd takes a sidetrack: “Incidentally, when Duke Ellington heard me in ’66 in the south of France, and we’d made a big explosion with the band, he said, ‘That guy over there (pointing to me), if he keeps stirring the soup, one day he’s gonna have something.’”

The latest incarnation of that soup will be Lloyd’s album Mirror, due in September.

“It’s original pieces of mine and a couple of standards, but the flow and the depth of it is so moving and tender. Before 9/11 I made an album The Water Is Wide with Brad Mehldau and (Billy) Higgins and those guys and that was my effort to instil some tenderness in the world. Well, the world must still need more tenderness, because this album is balladic and has some curvature and movement, but I hope that it inspires.”

Lloyd inspires. He grew up “when giants (Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton) roamed the Earth”. Elvis, who “was trying to be a musician”, would come over to the house of Lloyd’s pianist mentor, Phineas Newborn, and “eat all their food”. Lloyd played the blues with Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker, Johnny Ace and B.B. King.

He spent time in the fast lane, hanging out and doing drugs with Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. He went to Timothy Leary’s mansion at Millbrook with Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock.

But Lloyd says he was “lucky to have gotten out with my life”. He recalls being under the dining room table with Hendrix at the Grateful Dead’s house in Nevada. “This guy Owsley (Stanley) would give us a handful of tablets. I’d take two or three, but Jimi would take a whole handful, because he had that kind of constitution. He was moving through here really fast.”

Lloyd is, in his words, “an ecstatic”. “I like to be high. All that drug taking that you busted me for earlier, that was just cheap up and down hitches. It takes inhibition away, but at the same time it puts some kind of stress in your nervous system that takes a long time to work out.

“The thing about getting high with some externals is that you go up but then you’ve got to come down. But when you manufacture it inside, through your hard work, it’s a blessing. Tragic magic doesn’t work is all I’m trying to say.

“Instead of getting it from chemicals and such I checked out the Buddhist path — to go inside and annihilate all those desires and all that hunger for the unreal. Life is a school and we learn from our mistakes. You clean up the ruts in the road and you get out of here free. Now I just get on the magic carpet and come to you. I don’t even need to use fossil fuel.”

“I like Obama. I voted for him. And JFK. But I got short-changed both times. Politicians all make deals. World is like a dog’s curly tail, you straighten it and it will curl up again.

“I want to make a contribution and I would like to see us not defile the planet and not make it so that children coming later can’t live and breathe on it. But the lust and greed thing has gotten so strong that to put the genie back in the bottle …

“The song that I’m singing is the last night of the play and they may boo or applaud. But I’m going to sing my song anyway. It’s not like the politician, I get to sing a song of wakefulness to the planet and most folks don’t know what I’m about. That’s the interesting thing.”

Charles Lloyd New Quartet performs at Melbourne Recital Centre on May 4 at 7.30pm. Lloyd performs with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland as Sangam in Melbourne Town Hall on May 8 at 8pm.

A condensed version of this article was published in the Play section of the Sunday Herald Sun on May 2, 2010

Roger Mitchell will be covering the Melbourne International jazz Festival on ausjazz.net