Charles Lloyd Quartet @ Yoshi’s

YOSHI’S, OAKLAND – THURSDAY, SEPT. 23, 2010 — 8:00 P.M

Charles Lloyd; photo courtesy
Charles Lloyd; photo courtesy

As the Charles Lloyd Quartet began the second half of a two-night engagement at Yoshi’s Oakland on Thursday evening, their music seemed to coalesce from nothing, gathering itself and rolling into the room like billowing fog from a gray, choppy sea. The house was packed to capacity, but Lloyd’s august presence seemed to radiate throughout the club, creating a sense of warmth and inner stillness that allowed his band’s surging creativity to burst forth.

This band – with the dazzling Jason Moran on piano, eloquent Reuben Rogers on bass and elemental Eric Harland on drums – is widely regarded as one of the heaviest combos in jazz, and they proved it time and again on this night. Focusing on music from their new ECM release, Mirror, the group found brought renewed vividness to Lloyd’s established repertoire of standards and originals, performing with fathomless depth, naked emotion and a profound sense of spirit.

A flute waited patiently on stage for Lloyd, as did an exotic tárogató horn, but the master stuck to tenor sax for the duration of the set. Lifting his legs in turn as if stepping gingerly through a minefield, Lloyd poured out torrents of notes in his solos, marking a contrast from the relatively straightforward lyricism of his melodies. But even his plainest statements were distinctive: In “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” Lloyd refracted and embellished the tune, no so much following the written melody as moving in parallel to it, his lines simple and searching, with notes drifting down like leaves.

But no matter how weighty as Lloyd and company can be, they also have a lighter side, working in elements of soul, gospel and Latin rhythm. Moran was playful and aggressive at the piano, his solos spinning out rhapsodically in a riot of tonal color. As his fingers scrambled across the keyboard, he bounced and gyrated on his chair, as if ready to topple over at any moment. But at other moments, as in the haunting “La Llorona,” Moran was tender and resonant, setting piercing, solitary notes against a richly dignified, sonata-like background. He showed marvelous interplay with Rogers, darkly buoyant on bass, whose own solos were passionate and electrifying, if not always easy to hear in the mix. And Harland connected directly with the rapt audience, toying with rhythm, lightly sketching around the edges, and then diving in with abandon. When the time came for Harland’s main solo of the evening, Lloyd, Moran and Rogers all quietly left the stage, giving the drummer free reign to build up a volcanic outburst that, remarkably, never lost the groove established by the full quartet.

It was a thrilling set from start to finish, and when the audience broke into a standing ovation at the end, there was no formality to the gesture. Their enthusiasm was as sincere and heartfelt as Lloyd’s remarkable music.

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