"Being a true improviser requires a sound musical and technical background, but
the final statement must be full of human experience and expression"
- Jim Blackley

Charles Lloyd Quartet - Rabo De Nube

Charles Lloyd is perhaps one of jazz’s unsung heroes, and one that, I must confess, until recently has rather passed me by. The original Charles Lloyd Quartet featured the likes of, the now legendary, Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette and reached dizzying heights in the late 1960’s with "Forest Flower”. With “Rabo De Nube”, Lloyd’s latest ECM release, he has, once again, surrounded himself with the cream of the current young virtuosi in the likes of Jason Moran (Piano), Reuben Rogers (Double Bass) and Eric Harland (Drums).

It is maybe difficult to talk of an ageing jazz saxophone legend playing with a quartet of younger musicians without bringing to mind the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who must have provided at least some inspiration for Lloyd returning to this format, but the comparison would be unfair. Whilst there are hints of the freewheeling nature of Shorter’s two live outings, especially in the opening track “Prometheus”, this is, perhaps, a more straight-ahead record albeit encompassing a range of distinct flavours, but none the worse for being so, especially with such high quality musicians.

Recorded live in Basel in April 2007, “Rabo De Nube” opens with the tumultuous Prometheus. It must be said that this is probably one of the highlights of the record and provides fertile ground for all the musicians to improvise. It begins with Lloyd’s lone saxophone against a backdrop of ethnic percussion sounds, before stating the distinctive melodic hook that runs through the piece and brings in the band. Underpinned by Harland’s energetic drumming the band moves through a variety of rhythmic feels before releasing into up-tempo swing as they build through Lloyd’s solo. The band is clearly comfortable with the freedom they have here to allow the music to go where it will as the tune breaks right down into a bass solo that is largely bowed, before slowly building furiously and fabulously once again through Moran’s solo and on into Harland’s solo. This tune is both furious and intense, but also has some wonderfully soulful and melodic moments. It is a fine example of modern jazz at it’s best.

Migration of Spirit begins with a bass entrée which sets up a nicely loose and free introduction and emotive statement of the melody, invocating the songs title, before settling into a laid back groove for the solos.

Booker’s Garden sees Lloyd move to his flute in a tribute to the trumpeter Booker Little who was part of the Memphis underground jazz scene with Lloyd in the 1950’s. It starts as a loose ballad accompanied by Harland’s dancing brushes, before the second part moves into a nicely funky groove, with Jason Moran’s solo threatening to send the band sky rocketing.

Lloyd’s tarogato, a Hungarian Woodwind instrument, sets the tone for the eastern tinged Ramanujan. Again Jason Moran develops a wonderful solo from a nice melodic idea, nudged along by Harlan’s fizzing, percussive, drumming.

In a nice tribute to Thelonius Monk, La Colline de Monk, Jason Moran clearly displays a Monkish influence in the solo piano introduction. It also features some wonderful interplay between Moran and Lloyd, who also manages to quote Monk’s “Epistrophy”, before segueing into the furiously fast, slightly messy, and most straight-ahead track on the album, Sweet Georgia Bright.

Closing out the record, after the high jinx of the previous track, is the beautifully lyrical title track, the ballad Rabo De Nube, by Silvio Rodrigeuz, which is a fittingly subdued end to the set.

This is a good all round record showcasing Lloyd’s interest in dynamic jazz and world music and reminds us that Lloyd still has something to say. That it doesn’t stick to a typical “straight-a-head” styling, gives the opportunity to show that jazz and great improvisation are not just about “swing” and raises it above the norm. It is also a fabulous showcase for some of today’s best younger musicians; Jason Moran shines, Rueben Rogers is solid throughout, and Eric Harland demonstrates once again why he is the current drummer of choice for many, including Dave Holland. Definitely worth a listen.

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