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Charles Lloyd


By Chris Wong

Tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd arrived in New York City on Sept. 9, two days before he was scheduled to begin a weeklong engagement at the Blue Note jazz club. The next day, during an interview with the New York Times, Lloyd said the world needs more "tenderness." His words turned out to be prophetic. The catastrophic attack on the World Trade Center took place the following morning.

Charles LLoydIn the days before and after the attack, Lloyd and his wife Dorothy stayed at a friend's townhouse in Greenwich Village. It's near St. Vincent's Hospital, where many of the WTC victims have received treatment, and not far from ground zero in downtown New York. "To be here and to experience it, it really humbles you," says Lloyd, on the phone from that brownstone in the Village. "You come to know that tomorrow's not a given for any of us."

Lloyd considered cancelling dates on his quartet's North American tour, which includes a Sept. 25 concert at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. But he decided to go ahead with it. Response to the group's performances at the Blue Note, where the ensemble ended up playing the weekend after the devastating blow to America, confirmed the need for affecting music. "We had huge thanks from people saying how healing [the music was] and how much they were touched by the music. So I'm a believer that it's helpful to experience that."

It's not surprising to hear how listeners reacted. Since emerging as a major jazz instrumentalist in the '60s, Lloyd has played and composed with a depth of feeling that's spiritually powerful. The horrific events in New York intensified that power. At the same time Lloyd is dealing with another loss-the death last May of a close friend, the great drummer Billy Higgins. "He had such a big spirit, and no matter who he was playing with, he had this elevation to the degree that it was a magic carpet ride that he put you on. You could hurt yourself trying to get more air to keep playing because you just felt so good when you played with him."

At 18, Lloyd began playing with Higgins, who performed on more than 700 recordings, but the friends didn't record together much until the '90s. Higgins played on Lloyd's Voice in the Night. In December 1999, Lloyd led sessions in Los Angeles including Higgins, Abercrombie, pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Larry Grenadier. The sessions resulted in The Water Is Wide, a beautiful album of ballads. ECM Records has since released Hyperion With Higgins, which features more up-tempo tracks from the L.A. sessions.

On Hyperion With Higgins, Lloyd engagingly projects both exuberance and meditative introspection. Higgins, playing on one of his last recordings, sounds vibrant even though he was ailing. As for the others, who also convey extraordinary inspiration, Lloyd says they understood that his music is about "the dance." What does he mean by that? "It's just like, at a certain level, the whole thing of the universal and the way that the rhythms of the universe work. When you're in tune with your true nature, you can go out there on the edge and dance."

For Lloyd, the dance began in his hometown of Memphis, where he played with blues greats like B.B. King before moving to L.A. After establishing himself as a strong sideman, Lloyd formed his own quartet, which included future stars Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. The group gave a killer performance at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, documented on the classic Forest Flower.

Despite achieving immense popularity at a time when rock was drowning out jazz, Lloyd completely retreated from the music world. "I had dreams and aspirations of changing the world with music, and of course I didn't do that. So at the age of 30 I went away into the forest and lived in Big Sur. After having incredible experiences playing the music all over the world, I decided to try to change myself and to work on my sound and go deeper into my spiritual life. I think, fortunately, that has been a strengthening process for me."

In the early '80s, pianist Michel Petrucciani convinced Lloyd to leave Big Sur and they performed together. Later, Lloyd played with top European musicians like pianist Bobo Stenson. In Vancouver, where Lloyd hasn't performed since 1995, he'll play with Abercrombie, Grenadier and drummer Billy Hart.

At the age of 63, Lloyd remains passionate about making creative music. "I'm loving music more than ever. As a young man I thought I'd never be doing this when I got to be 40 or 50. I thought this was a young man's work. Well I'm just beginning to find the deep beauty that resides in the music and how the music dances on a lot of shores."