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The New Cool: Charles Lloyd, Live and Kicking

From left: Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers, Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland
Photo/Daniel Sheehan
Charles Lloyd and his New Quartet at Seattle's Town Hall in 2009.

Now approaching his 80th birthday, sax and flute player, composer and band leader Charles Lloyd leads his quartet of young stars on a new live recording of free flowing improvisation and uplifting energy. It's no longer a mentor and his students, this is a band of four men working as one.

Passin' Thru was recorded live in New Mexico and Switzerland with the same fine players that have comprised his "New Quartet" for the past decade: Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland at the drums. It's a quartet that's developed a deep level of communication since Lloyd brought them together in 2007. As pictured above at Seattle's Town Hall in a terrific photo captured by Daniel Sheehanin 2009, they formed a musical camaraderie almost immediately. Most exciting, this is the first album from the quartet in 6 years!

The new live album isn't modern jazz of the electronics-dominated New Cool variety, but of the loose, flowing musical communication between acoustic players -- more akin to Lloyd's popular "modern jazz" groups of the 60's with pianist Keith Jarrett. This collection of Lloyd's own compositions range from newer material to songs from his earliest bands -- uptempo burners to meditative ballads -- but maintain throughout a straight-ahead post-bop melodic structure that puts the emphasis on improvisation.

The outlier, featured this week on the show, is a soulful look back at a song by his mid-60s quartet with Keith Jarrett, "Tagore On the Delta." It's an update of "Tagore" from a live album in Norway, putting his ruminations on the Eastern philosophy of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore in the context of his Southern upbringing in Memphis. In a recent interview with NPR's Nate Chinen, Lloyd says, "I realized that the Delta is upon me, because I come from there."

This piece is drenched in soul, opening with a funky upright bass intro from Rogers, backed by an insistent single chord strummed inside the piano by Moran, and a pulsing backbeat from Harland. Charles Lloyd's flute makes its first and only appearance on the album, floating over the top and leading the band to a half-time vamp of 60's soul that should have modern hip-hop producers busy finding a way to sample this cool groove.

From his early albums to stages shared with Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead, followed by work with the Beach Boys in the 70s and a return to form with pianist Michel Petrucciani in the 80s, Charles Lloyd has lived a musician's life. Now he stands with Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter among the last living legends of the saxophone, beloved by jazz fans of all ages and earning plaudits by critics of all stripes, receiving the rank of Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2015.

Last year, Lloyd recorded a fine album with The Marvels, the guitars of Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz with the Rogers/Harland rhythm section, and they teamed up for concerts this Spring and Summer. Always looking for new opportunities for musical freshness, the Memphis reed man may explore other paths to explore with different musicians, as well. But the "New" Charles Lloyd Quartet is an inexhaustible source of exciting possibilities. Their new album Passin' Thru is proof of that.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson, produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.