Sangam is Charles Lloyd's 11th recording for ECM. All of these albums have been compelling in their way. They have stretched both artist and audience to varying degrees. This set, recorded live in 2004 at a theater in Santa Barbara during homage for the late Billy Higgins, was Lloyd's debut performance with Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain (Shakti), and drummer/percussionist Eric Harland (Lloyd's quartet drummer). What started as a one-off by three players brought together for one purpose has become Sangam, a going concern. This music, while rooted in the rhythms of the world, is jazz without a doubt. Lloyd plays everything from tenor and soprano to flutes, taragato, piano, and some percussion. While Lloyd is the centerpiece and is the melodic and harmonic bridge, what's on offer here is something truly unexpected, something wildly original and essential to jazz-improvisatory communication: the interplay between Harlan's trap drums and Hussain's tablas is utterly astonishing. The rhythm section sings, squawks, whispers, and cries, and Lloyd, in his grace, plays his ass off while making plenty of room for this rather miraculous interaction. There is complete freedom here between percussive voices. Lloyd's allowance for, and encouragement of that space is remarkable for any leader, but his willingness to let the music unfold and happen is compelling, magical, and gives true definition to the term "Sangam," a defintion, according to the liner notes, of "confluence and coming together." The entire soloist rhythm section idea has been tossed. It means less than nothing here, and probably didn't occur to any of the players once the music began happening. The jam opens with Lloyd on taragato for "Dancing on One Foot," digging deep in acknowledging upfront the ensemble's debt to Eastern origins. But it goes so much further. "Tales of Rumi" is pure flow. Lloyd's tenor playing through modes and tonalities from the blues to Sufi music, with Hussain setting a pulse that Harland underscores, improvises upon, and then creates another pulse where Hussain takes off and creates yet another rhythm and its mirror image, as Lloyd listens deeply and sings the song. "Sangam" is introduced by a dialogue between Harland and Hussain, setting some otherworldly space for Lloyd to enter. He falls into their folded dimensionality and begins from the heart of their dialogue on his tenor. One can hear the Coltrane of "Africa" here, as well as Eric Dolphy's bop-stretched harmonics. But most importantly, one can hear Lloyd, his voice so sure-footed, his ear so finely tuned to what is happening around him that he allows himself to be carried by that stream of percussive ideas and accents as he hears them, and speaks something deep, definite, and open in order to prod the pair on. It goes like this for the entire 65 minutes. From one place lyric and melodious that breaks through to another song form as yet unheard in this piece by anyone playing it ("Hymn to the Mother") to another full of ritual space and Indian classicism -- Hussain's "Guman," that pays homage to the discipline of his father -- the effect is the same: its mystery is revealed as it happens, and creates as many questions as it answers. There is a jazzman's sense of adventure in all of this, however, and Lloyd, Hussain, and Harland honor that spirit and, as always, knowing the music's great generosity of spirit, brings in everything that feels right while freely giving props -- sonically -- to the territories it derives that inspiration and generosity from.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek