Sunday, March 26, 2017

GONE TROPPO WITH CHARLES LLOYD

It's a pleasure for the world of music to throw you a curveball and have you scrambling for the least-expected things. Lately, for me, it's been what I would call 'tropical-psychedelic-era CHARLES LLOYD'. I'm as surprised as you are. Or maybe you have no idea of what I speak, so a quick introduction.

I have a number of Charles Lloyd CDs on the ECM label. I distributed and managed the label down here for a number of years, as you may or may not know (or care), and am very familiar with its catalogue. Lloyd has quite a few albums on the label, which he has been on since the beginning of the 1980s. The albums in question are 'OK', but I rarely ever play them (I didn't pay for them), as I find them to be fairly non-remarkable hard-bop discs with occasional avant flourishes which, by no means bad, don't spark my interest a great deal. But still they sit on the shelf, awaiting the beckoning.

My workmate is - god, as much as it pains me to say this - a bit of a boffin on the world of 'soul-jazz', that curious sub-genre which developed in the late '60s and was/is basically a concoction made up of jazz, soul, pop and occasionally dollops of psychedelia. It's a broad brush, but regardless, many old jazzheads from the day went down that route for a few years, some basically for commercial reasons (many old and stodgy jazz fans banishing them as sell-outs for doing so), and the results varied. Cannonball Adderley's albums from this period (particularly his David Axelrod-produced ones) are simply excellent - you must hear Zodiac - but this piece isn't about soul-jazz per se, as that requires a book, not a blog post, so let's talk about Charles Lloyd's contributions to this loose genre.

So, my workmate thrust a copy of Lloyd's Moon Man LP from 1970 in front of my face about a month ago and said, You heard this? I told him I knew nothing of it, only that Lloyd recorded various hippie-ish jazz albums in the '60s (he ingratiated himself heavily with the west coast long-hair scene, although he was born in Memphis in 1938) and then recorded heavily for the ECM label later on. I was told I must hear it. I did. You must hear it, too. An ear-melting blend of goofy spoken-word material, almost country-style boogie-rock, spiritual jazz and rambling psychedelia, I now - a month or so later - rate it as a lost gem waiting to be rediscovered. As are his other LPs from the early '70s.

Curiously, Lloyd also played sax for the Beach Boys during this period - the band's best period, might I add - and various members of the band helped him out on two other crucial records from this era: 1971's Warm Waters and 1972's Waves. The greatness of these two albums - or maybe it's just ME: the reviews remain lukewarm to this day - are something I would like you to familiarise yourself with. Both featuring the likes of Al Jardine, Mike Love, Carl and Brian Wilson - you know, the Beach fuckin' Boys - they are a truly weird and beautiful mixture of cosmic jazz, sweet harmonies and tropical vibes. They have the distinct smell of marketplace failure all over them, too, but that just adds a sweet twist to the story. They come from a lost time when labels just threw money at this kind of strange nonsense in the hope that it would catch on with The Kids. It clearly didn't.

And then there is 1973's Geeta to consider - and you should consider it. With Lloyd on sax and flute with a three-piece band consisting of guitar, bass and dholak (South Asian hand-drum, like the tabla), as well as sitar and cosmic vocals,  it sees Lloyd, like many of his contemporaries, getting all mystical in an almost Don Cherry-like way (an apt musical comparison, alongside Miles' Big Fun juggernaut). Am I partying in the wrong circles? Why is there no Charles Lloyd box set documenting this period? Why have I not heard the utterance, I'm really into early '70s Charles Lloyd right now. Well, you just did! Get on it.





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