by Mark Saleski
Listeners come to jazz from many directions. They may have a natural attraction to it. Jazz may have been the predominant music playing on their parents’ home stereo (though that kind of situation has been known to drive a person in the opposite direction). They may even have played an instrument at a young age and gone on to stay with the music they were immersed in while learning their charts.
Then, there’s the “gateway record.” This is the album-equivalent of a gateway drug, but without the illicit substances and contentious debate.
Famous gateway records? Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Inner Mounting Flame: John McLaughlin had the jazz pedigree (Miles Davis is all you need at the top of your resume). He also had chops to burn … and burn they did on this record. Casino by Al DiMeola. Honestly, almost any early DiMeola record will do. A sort-of cousin to McLaughlin in the smoking fretboard department, DiMeola dragged many a guitar fan toward the downbeat. Feels So Good by Chuck Mangione. In the late 1970s, flugelhorn player and bandleader Mangione had a huge crossover hit with this album’s title track. So many people owned and loved that record that it surely planted more than a few jazz seeds (it was my first ‘jazz’ record). Forest Flower by Charles Lloyd. Maybe not quite as high profile as some of those other artists, this was one of those recordings that rock fans felt comfortable owning due to extended and spacey/ambient textures layed forth by some decidedly high-profile (though not at the time) players including Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette.
Many years (and stylistic shifts) later, Lloyd would combine his early modes (more or less ‘straight ahead’ jazz) with the more expansive structures that followed to carve out his own jazz niche. Somehow he manages to put together song suites that are both forward-looking and reverent of his past … but without excessive sentiment. It can probably be said that each musician’s release provides at least a partial summation of the artist’s body of work. Charles Lloyd seems to give a complete summation with every new record — but with each album sounding fresh.
Lloyd’s 2005 entry in this unofficial series was Jumping The Creek. He assembled a killer lineup that most definitely suits his muscular style of sax play. Geri Allen’s angular reactions to Lloyd’s lines (check out her solo/response on “Ken Katta Ma Om”) seem right at home here. Robert Hurst (Pharoah Sanders, Tony Williams, Branford Marsalis) took up the low end with a lot of melodic flair, reminding me of Ornettte-era Charlie Haden. I’d never heard of drummer Eric Harland but the man laid claim to a mountain of technique (especially on the snare) as well as sensitivity.
And then there was Lloyd himself, weaving all of this together with saxes (tenor and Paul Desmond-ish alto) and the taragato (Turkish Pipe). The word “weaved” was used here because, unlike some jazz groups, Lloyd seems more like an equal band member rather than the lead instrument needing support from the rest of the cast. On some tunes (the closing “Song of the Inuit”, for one) Lloyd presents a mere thematic fragment that is expanded upon and endlessly morphed by the entire ensemble. It’s this kind more “open” jazz quartet music that people should be exposed to when they think jazz means “ching, ching-a, ching.” There’s far more to it than that.
Another kind of gateway record? Maybe.
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