Charles Lloyd Celebrates 80th Birthday With Special Guests on ‘8: Kindred Spirits’ (Live from the Lobero)” (ALBUM REVIEW)

This is a brilliant document of Charles Lloyd’s 80th Birthday concert, performed in his home venue, the Lobero in Santa Barbara, CA.  The 8: Kindred Spirits (Live from the Lobero) features his cor rhythm tandem of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland with frequent collaborator pianist Gerald Clayton and one-time collaborator guitarist Julian Lage as the quintet on Disc One of this Deluxe Box Set that includes 3-LPs, 2-CDs, a DVD, a 96-page hardcover book and 2 photo prints. The album was also be released in standard LP/DVD, CD/DVD, and a digital version that features this first set that comprises three Lloyd originals and the traditional often performed, exquisite “La Llorona.” It’s a masterpiece of saxophone tone and spiritual playing, punctuated with scintillating solo spots from Lage and Clayton.

The second set is a clinic in deep R&B and blues, a nod to Lloyd’s upbringing in Memphis, where instead of playing in his signature spiritual style, he honks with the best of them alongside guest Booker T. Jones on organ, bassist and Blue Note President Don Was on two tracks, as well as Clayton who joins the ensemble for two closing pieces.  All told, this is an unprecedented gathering for a special event. That’s the new part. The consistent part is that Lloyd has the played the one hundred-and-fifty-year-old adobe theater in downtown Santa Barbara, more often than any venue and, more often than any other performer. Knowing that Marian Anderson sang there on February 14, 1940 makes it a sacred space for him.

Turning to some excerpts from the liners from esteemed writer Geoffrey Himes, we glean these two paragraphs – “What connects all of Lloyd’s work over the past 60 years are his unforgettable two-bar and four-bar phrases and his focus on the spiritual quality of sound. Melody, rhythm and emotion are bonded so tightly in these musical molecules that the elements can’t be separated. The sacramental nature of these repeating motifs is essential to his sense of ritual. He describes this concentration as “singing.” Quoting Lloyd, “If you go back and look at my history, I’m trying to sing that same song. Today, I bring with me everything I’ve ever played, but I try to maintain ‘beginner’s mind.’ I have both the benefit of experience and the desire for new discoveries. You can’t bring everything you know all at once…that’s the error of youth. I’m not denying the young Charles, but as my character becomes whole, the music gets better. You have to choose the right notes. There are some notes on the saxophone I didn’t have as a young man. They aren’t even on the horn; they’re in between the cracks.”

Amazingly, 31-year-old guitarist Lage first performed with Lloyd when he was 12 years old. He is so versatile, proving capable at avant-garde jazz in the opening “Dream Weaver,” for example, dazzling with solos on “Requiem,” “La Llorona” and the pensive “Part 5, Ruminations” before then displaying masterful blues chops on Disc Two. Clayton also shines throughout, especially on the ballads “La Llorona” and the closing “You Are So Beautiful.”

Even more surprisingly Booker T. Jones had never played with Lloyd at all before this date.  Booker T. takes to piano and sings a birthday song for Lloyd in the second set following Lloyd’s arrangement of the traditional “Abide.” Jones fits comfortably into the ensemble as the set shifts into a Memphis groove circa late ‘50s – early ‘60s with “Island Blues,” an incredible treatment of the traditional “Shenandoah”, “Sombrero Sam,” which features Lloyd’s pure tone on the alto flute and the requisite crowd pleaser “Green Onions.” Don Was graces those last two as well. Clayton and Rogers rejoin the ensemble for Lloyd’s vintage “Forest Flower” before closing with a sumptuous rendition of Billy Preston’s ballad “You Are So Beautiful.”

Again, Disc One contains tunes that Lloyd frequently plays in his live shows and stands as a strong representation of Lloyd’s adventurous, ever probing free form style while Disc Two reveals a bluesy/R&B side we seldom see. Maybe that’s completely fitting as Lloyd says, “…I find that even now I’m finding new notes that I never had before.”  This is Charles Lloyd – ever seeking and ever so vital at age 80.

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