Charles Lloyd / The Charles Lloyd Quartet

Jumping the Creek

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Since making a middle-of-life comeback in the 1990s, saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Charles Lloyd has continually issued fascinating recordings. While some of them contain missteps, it's not for lack of ambition. For one of jazz's elder statesmen, Lloyd pushes his envelope of ideas about improvisation, rhythm and harmony, often to the breaking point. He is a player who sets sometimes impossibly high goals for himself, but in so doing, gives listeners something to really hold on to when encountering one of his albums or seeing him live. Jumping the Creek, which continues his association with ECM Records, is another compelling affair. The band -- pianist Geri Allen, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Eric Harland -- is simply outstanding. Allen, particularly, hasn't shined on a record like this thus far this decade. Lloyd's compositional ideas here come from rhythmic phrases, small harmonic vamps and emotional thematics. Lloyd engages his quartet in various ways, sometimes in duets, sometimes trios, sometimes as a full band, often during the same composition. The whole quartet does engage fully on the 13-plus-minute opener "Ne Me Quitte Pas," with skeletal phrases becoming larger, striated harmonic statements as Allen uses both modal and post-bop concerns to flesh out the body of the tune. The saxophone/drums duet in "Ken Katta Ma Om," is an utterly lovely change-up that follows. The rest of the band doesn't even enter until halfway through. And Allen does this as a way of introducing a contrapuntal solo that touches upon both Andrew Hill and Lennie Tristano. The title track uses trio and quartet settings to explore the various tensions in melody. Lloyd is a master of moving from gorgeous, gently swinging balladry to blues-drenched free blowing, on a dime. "The Sufi's Tears" features Lloyd on taragato -- a soprano saxophone-like instrument used in Middle Eastern and Indian music. Accompanied only by Hurst's bowed bass, the mournful melody slips off into ether as improvisation wanders into the heart of the frame and remains. It's exotic and tight. "Georgia Bright Smile," is another long work in which the band changes configurations repeatedly in the course of its execution, winding around Lloyd's themes and Allen's painterly pianism. Hurst is particularly impressive here as he trades fours with Allen in his solo. Ultimately however, this, like Lloyd's other recordings on ECM is about emotion, feeling, and a sense of peace and serenity. Lloyd uses the rough places in his improvisations, to be sure, but it is only to make the rough places plain, limpid, utterly integrated in a serene whole. On Jumping the Creek he succeeds seamlessly and ups his own artistic ante.

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