Review: Charles Lloyd Quartet with special guest Maria Farantouri at Barbican

Socratis Sinopoulos, Maria Farantouri, Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers, Greg Hutchinson
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Charles Lloyd Quartet with special guest Maria Farantouri
(Barbican, 28 April 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri have built up a friendship over 20 years, based around the delight they share in each other’s musical voyages, and in the mixture of spontaneity and perfection that defines their arts. Although 10 years separates them they both made their first impacts in the late 60s – Lloyd assembled a stellar quartet that brought jazz to the hippie subculture, and Farantouri became identified as the voice of Theodorakis’s songs of protest against the Greek junta.

As part of Charles Lloyd’s 75th birthday celebrations they consolidated their blossoming collaboration initiated at The Athens Concert of 2010 (recorded by ECM) with two concerts in the US, and three in Europe, culminating at the Barbican.

Playing an uninterrupted two-hour set, Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran opened with a sensitive homage to Ellington. ‘The Star-Crossed Lover’ from ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ was the vehicle for Lloyd’s delicate, soft-toned tenor flow. Lloyd’s interpretation fluttered and swooped with the grace of a swift in flight, acknowledging the majesty of Johnny Hodges’ original recorded alto sax solo. Moran went on to skirmish with hearty ragtime in a ‘Mood Indigo’ peppered with Lloyd’s translucent, vertiginous runs. The gently paternal eye cast over Moran during his brightly articulated solo underpinned Lloyd’s young-at-heart elder statesman status.

‘God Only Knows’ emerged out of carefully obscured beginnings and the Beach Boys theme continued when Reuben Rogers and Greg Hutchinson made up the quartet. Their animated gusto was pulled along and shaped by Lloyd who threw in a blistering solo in his signature ‘Dream Weaver’ – in apposite contrast to Hutchinson’s ultra-fine percussive interventions and Rogers’ bowed accents. The fluctuating momentum of ‘Caroline No’ was maintained by the merest of beats and ended on a magically quiet note. All the while there was an acoustic seam to the rhythm section which invited close listening. It felt like a small room on a big stage.

Cue Maria Farantouri, whom Lloyd declared “has been my teacher for the last decade or so!” Having played a series of concerts together, they had established a natural blend and balance as her sculpted, tonally modulated voice became the fifth instrument in a unique rapport between Greek rebetiko and contemporary jazz idioms. The stringed lyra of Socratis Sinopoulos was the raw, ancient sixth voice which underscored the history, emotion and landscape evoked by Farantouri, and, unexpectedly, was invested with the spirit of Jerry Goodman’s violin from the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

As a sextet they worked around much of the contemporary and traditional Greek material, and Lloyd mainstays to be found on the Athens album. Any compromises made to either genre were entirely sympatico and made in the best of civilised spirit – given Lloyd’s brief address about the debt owed to Greek culture, philosophy and civilisation, that was more than apt.

On the lament, Miroloi, Lloyd switched to flute and tárogató, an instrument also favoured by Peter Brötzmann, which added a flavour of the mountain regions, filtered through a jazz sensibility. Sprightly solos and duets were woven in to the texture, supported by carefully placed single notes from Moran and Rogers, and the lightest of ticks, taps and brushings from Hutchinson.

Farantouri’s voice welled in tandem with the ensemble, was perfectly pitched against the quartet’s flair, and wound down with an immaculate sense of timing. Duetting with Lloyd, voice and saxophone became uncannily and thrillingly interchangeable and she showed, in encore, that she was very much at home with the jazz chanson, at which point we could have been in a small night club!

… and what we would give to see these musicians in a club setting!

Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, flute and tárogató
Maria Farantouri: vocals
Jason Moran: piano
Reuben Rogers: double bass
Greg Hutchinson: drums
Socratis Sinopoulos: lyra


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