Charles Lloyd brings Big Sur along with him

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By Dan Emerson. Photos by Tim Campbell

Saxophone icon Charles Lloyd never seems to rush into anything. But he must have been especially eager to start his late show Wednesday night at the Dakota jazz club.
Dakota co-owner Lowell Pickett wasn’t too far into his introductory remarks when the 83-year old Lloyd ambled onstage, sat down at the grand piano and started to play a lilting instrumental ballad. “OK, there doesn’t need to be an introduction,” Pickett said, as the three other members of the quartet joined Lloyd onstage.
Moving away from the piano to make room for Gerald Clayton, Lloyd played some long tones on taragato, the exotic Hungarian/Romanian instrument. Then he picked up his tenor sax, before sitting down again to recite his serenity-themed “Tone Poem” the title track from his newest Blue Note album: “Avert your gaze from the toxic haze behind… persevere to the peace and light ahead.” Lloyd’s M.O. is similar to that of guitarist Bill Frisell – a member of Lloyd’s group The Marvels – in that he seems to focus more on tones and pure sound, rather than licks.

Lloyd’s band for his two nights at the Dakota was a different version of The Marvels, the group he’ll start a European tour with on Nov. 12. Lloyd’s quartet included Clayton, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Harish Raghavan, a rising star on the upright bass. Harland is also one of the Marvels. They are all relative youngsters who have chops to burn – when the music at hand calls for instrumental pyrotechnics – but also have the judicious touch required by Lloyd’s carefully crafted music. Clayton in particular impresses with his subtle keystrokes that always fit the music.
Lloyd still has a gorgeous tone on flute, as he showed on a rendition of “Little Peace” a Lloyd composition dating back to early in his career, on his 1964 debut album “Discovery!”
The set also featured “Rabo de Nude” the slowly-unfolding meditative ballad he wrote and recorded a few years ago, and his minor key piece “Requiem,” with Lloyd on tenor sax.
Rather than burning, the set Wednesday night was a good representation of his stylistic trademark – a slow, albeit satisfying simmer.
The cliched idea of “California mellow” has been fodder for a million jokes and comedy bits. But Lloyd’s music always seems to embody the serenity he apparently found when he and his wife, Dorothy Darr, lived in peaceful seclusion among the redwoods in coastal Big Sur, from 1970 until the mid-’80s. (They live in Santa Monica now).
Seeming to gain energy as the evening’s second show unfolded, Lloyd did some of his most emphatic tenor sax blowing near the end of the roughly one-hour set.

Dan Emerson is a freelance writer and musician.