Wild Man Dance marks Charles Lloyd's return to Blue Note after nearly 30 years. The work, a six-part suite, was commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wrocĺaw, Poland in 2013 and premiered and was recorded there. The composer is accompanied by an international cast. The American rhythm section -- pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders, and longtime drummer Eric Harland -- are appended by Greek lyra player Sokratis Sinopoulos and Hungarian Miklos Lukacs on cimbalom. The music here seamlessly melds creative, modally influenced jazz and folk forms, a near classical sense of dynamics, and adventurous improvisation. The long opener "Flying Over the Odra Valley" opens with mysterious interplay between cimbalom and lyra before the bass, drum, and Clayton's elliptical piano enter in a collective rhythmic improvisation on folk drones. Lloyd begins his solo a little over three minutes in. He finds a melody from the heart of the droning center and begins to elaborate upon it as the other instruments gradually rise to meet him. Harland's gently rolling tom-toms, kick drum, and whispering cymbals accent Sanders, who takes a woody solo. It is framed by gently dissonant piano chords that erect themselves into a labyrinthine solo flight. When Lloyd re-enters, it is to re-establish the melodic modal center before Sinopoulos takes it out and helps to introduce "Gardner." Throughout the suite, Lloyd juxtaposes jazz with vanguard textures and the ghosts of sounds and musics from antiquity. Clayton introduces "Lark" with a solo that recalls the meditative yet expressive questioning of Olivier Messiaen's bird songs before bowed bass, lyra, and cimbalom lushly illustrate it without sacrificing the tune's spectral quality. "River" contains a gentle intro, which becomes the vehicle for knotty, swinging post-bop, and later, pulsing free group improvisation highlighted by killer playing by Clayton, Harland, and Lukacs. And while the title track closer also begins slowly, with gorgeous Webster-esque ballad playing from Lloyd, it winds out into a kinetic, freewheeling exploration of tone, timbre, and color and a wonderful solo by Sinopoulos. Wild Man Dance is a success on virtually every level. Its vision is vast, but never indulgent; Lloyd's music is relatable and communicative throughout. It spreads farther than ever before to embrace other musical forms without forsaking jazz. Though Wild Man Dance is on Blue Note, it nonetheless reflects the spiritual and aesthetic qualities nurtured during Lloyd's 16-album tenure at Manfred Eicher's ECM, and extends them with musical restlessness and fearless willingness. This inspiring suite is a landmark in an already extensive creative journey that readily embraces the unknown.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek