Since 1967’s Forest Flower and other late-’60s albums popularized tenor saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd with both jazz and progressive-rock audiences, he has routinely embraced the unconventional.
In 2016, Lloyd began working with the Marvels – guitarist Bill Frisell, pedal-steel great Greg Leisz, drummer Eric Harland, and standup bassist Reuben Rogers. Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, and Lucinda Williams added guest vocals to their previous albums. Country-jazz fusion, however, was never Lloyd’s goal.
Here, his sinuous, flowing tenor or flute floats above glistening accompaniment by Frisell and Leisz. On a smoldering version of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’,” Frisell interjects raw, snarling fuzz lines. Lloyd and Frisell open Lloyd’s original “Dismal Swamp” in a nicely articulated unison. Both guitarists add brief, tastefully spare statement. When each step out on Lloyd’s bolder “Tone Poem,” the saxophonist adds rhythmic counterpoint behind them.
After five years, this is a unit clearly at ease with one another. Frisell commences Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” with stately, spiritual lines and a melodic statement, Leisz supporting him before Lloyd takes over. Their aggressive spin on Gabor Szabo’s “Lady Gabor” features Lloyd’s insistent flute lines, as Frisell and Leisz add simple, bare-bones riffs. Likewise, they ably capture the contemplative melancholy on Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood.”
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.