Charles Lloyd – Mirror (2010)

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S. Victor Aaron

Two years is not a long time between albums, and Charles Lloyd has maintained a steady output of an album every couple of years and sometimes every year since hooking up with ECM Records in the late 80s. It’s impressive when keeping in mind that Lloyd has been making records since 1965 and even more impressive when considering that the acclaimed saxophonist never put out a bad or even mediocre record for ECM. He’s truly a hallmark for consistency, and the legend he’s steadily built up for forty-five years gets another layer added to it with Tuesday’s release of Mirror.

The last record he made was the standout live disc Rabo de Nube, an easy choice for my Best of 2008 list. Mirror returns Lloyd to the regular program of an even mixture of covers and originals recorded in the studio, but this is the first studio date for his Rabo de Nube ensemble. That group, made up of Lloyd (tenor and alto saxes), Jason Moran (piano), Reuben Rogers (double-bass) and Eric Harland (drums), is one of Lloyd’s best, as the younger players make their leader sound complete by supporting him in a way he seems very comfortable with.

The adaptation of standards this group employs are excellent examples of doing more with less. “I Fall In Love Too Easily” is performed without Harland and Moran is not heard for about half of it, but this lean rendering allows Lloyd and Rogers bring out the beauty of the melody in a way that a busier arrangement could not. It’s probably easy to forget that Lloyd did session work for the Beach Boys in the 70s, but his urbane reading of Brian Wilson‘s “Caroline, No” shows his imagination in adapting a song from the iconic American rock group for small group jazz. Even the two Thelonious tunes “Monk’s Mood” and “Ruby My Dear” sound like Lloyd songs in his hands, because his sweet, supple and romantic sax projects a unique personality.

The leader gave us an easy way to compare his current ensemble with a prior one by revisiting the traditional spiritual “The Water Is Wide.” Ten years prior, Lloyd recorded this song with John Abercrombie, Brad Mehldau, Billy Higgins and Larry Grenadier, a very impressive, cross-generational bunch (The Water Is Wide is also the name of the album the earlier version this song appeared on). In contrast to the former version, which was slow and deliberate, Lloyd & Co. adopt a fanciful, bass-led strut and let the song come to them. Rogers is at the center and even contributes a solo that’s perfectly in the pocket, and Lloyd plays his sax at a higher register, perhaps reflecting a greater enthusiasm this time around. Moran seems to take the “spiritual” part to heart, playing with a Sunday morning attitude.

Among Lloyd’s originals, “Desolation Sounds” stands out for Moran’s efforts as both a accompanist and soloist, “Mirror” for Harland’s sophisticated shuffling underneath, and “Being And Becoming” for it’s ability to go “out” without diminishing the natural flow and allure of a Lloyd melody.

Mirror doesn’t come without a couple of minor flaws, however: Lloyd misses a couple of notes on the Spanish-tinged “La Llorona” a very uncharacteristic misstep for both Lloyd and ECM, and his recital of poetry for the first half of “Tagi” is so hushed it’s hard to make out what he is saying. These issues don’t do much to disturb the overall vibe of the record, because the strengths are too great to be cancelled out so easily. Overall, Mirror is just Lloyd doing what he’s done for so long and so well; he’s merely refining it by seeking—and finding—revitalization through younger and talented supporting players.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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