A Master’s Touch: Charles Lloyd

Jazz legend returns to La Jolla

Dan Atkinson

Last Tuesday, in a mesmerizing concert that will undoubtedly rank in the top-five of the year among many in the sold-out audience, Athenaeum Jazz brought the legendary Charles Lloyd Quartet back to La Jolla.

The buzz for this event had been palpable in the jazz community for several weeks, and the folks at Athenaeum Jazz even had to resort to breaking out all of the available folding chairs to accommodate the overflow crowd of Lloyd enthusiasts.

I doubt anyone left disappointed.

From the very first purring tones the leader emitted over the tinkling keys of Gerald Clayton’s piano and the probing bass of Rueben Rogers – a vibe was established. A mood, a spirit, a feeling – and it only got deeper as the evening progressed.

Lloyd can conjure ‘Trane at his most searching quest and his latest band, especially Clayton, compares favorably to past powerhouses like Keith Jarrett, Michel Pettruciani, and Jason Moran. Each of the unnamed compositions ( Lloyd spoke nary a syllable the entire night) carried depth and gravitas, allowing the tenor-man to soar into the ether with controlled abandon.

Everyone got their time in the spotlight, including two monstrous bass essays from Rogers -- one featuring his superb arco and the other which mined the depths of his pliant pizzicato. Drummer Kendrick Scott was also outstanding, steering the ensemble with a powerful Elvin Jones-type groove without ever veering into unnecessary showboating.

But Lloyd leaned most heavily on the support of Clayton, whose ecstatic cascades of melodic effusion served as a perfect foil to the darker explorations of the leader, and this contrast was exploited to the fullest, song after song, indicating that something special was happening right before our eyes.

After a clamorous ovation, the band returned, for three additional pieces, including a surprising bit of funk, which toggled from  the sanctuary feeling of southern gospel to the raw ladling from the gutbucket.

It was everything it should be. I have no higher compliment.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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