CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens

Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens
(Blue Note 6758848. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Vanished Gardens refers to the utopia of our dreams, a garden of Eden, which, in the current political climate, is being eroded away,” saxophonist Charles Lloyd told one interviewer. This is Charles Lloyd and the Marvels’ second album, drawing again on Americana for inspiration. This recording features Grammy-winning singer Lucinda Williams on half the tracks: her emotional, dusty voice with its overtones of country blues.

Three of the instrumentals are by Lloyd. The title track opens with all the instruments tangled freely with each other in a collective improv over a subtle 6/8 groove, which gets rockier. Lloyd’s crackling sax lines are passionate; Bill Frisell’s guitar is percussive then feathery, and Greg Leisz’ pedal steel guitar creates sirens of sound. Defiant has a powerful, slow melodic theme. Lloyd’s tone is gorgeous and upfront in the mix, with a mixture of authority and delicacy. At 80 he sounds better than ever, as if he’s calling us to listen. Reuben Rogers’ bass underpins everything with potent simplicity. Leisz’ solo shimmers, while Frisell’s is bluesy and taut. His slinky Blues for Langston [Hughes] and [Evelyn] LaRue [Pitman] celebrates two Harlem Renaissance figures. Lloyd’s flute is playful in unison with guitar: a bop-phrased tune with a smile in it. There’s fine shuffly drumming from Eric Harland while Frisell’s solo harks back to early blues players.

Monk’s Mood opens with Jim Hall-esque chord melody guitar, evoking Monk’s spiky internal lines with iridescent notes. Lloyd’s phrases are as free as Evan Parker but softly strung between the notes of the tune. The Wolf/Landesman standard Ballad of The Sad Young Men had been planned as a vocal track, but ended as an instrumental. The slowly sinuous pedal steel chords wind round the guitar melody; the scales of Lloyd’s solo fly around the tune like a flock of birds.

Four of the five vocal tracks are by Williams. Dust, an emotive song about the inability to express emotion, was written after her poet father’s death, and is based on one of his poems. It has a country-rock vibe, but: “Lucinda was not turning into a jazz singer and we were not transforming our approach to become country/Americana musicians,” says Lloyd. Leisz and Frisell both play on her original 2016 recording, but Harland and Rogers bring a looser jazziness to the groove here. Ventura (‘Stand in the shower/ Clean this dirty mess’)and Unsuffer Me (‘My joy is dead/I long for bliss’) search for redemption through ordinary experiences and love. As her poet father put it: “…her songs… have dirt under the fingernails.” There’s anguish and toughness in the voice, but the music is very beautiful, especially the gilded tone of Lloyd’s outro in Ventura. Unsuffer Me’s subtly stomping, swampy New Orleans feel has a drawling solo from Leisz. Harland, often delicately restrained on this album, lets rip in powerful rolls.

The gospelly We’ve Come Too Far To Turn Around links back to the Vanished Gardens theme. (‘From the city of Atlanta/To Birmingham, Alabama… we have come too far to turn around.’) Lloyd’s sax opens with the quarter tones and trills of the Hungarian tárogató, which he’s played on other recordings. He creates an impassioned commentary on the lyrics: ‘For over four hundred years/ We’ve been on this trail of tears.’ Hendrix’s Angel concludes the album, an afterthought with vocals, guitar and sax after the others had left the studio. Williams’ voice is peaceful between the flickering sax notes and pared-down guitar arpeggios. It’s a reminder of Lloyd’s extraordinary history: he’s played with many rock musicians, and knew Hendrix, but never got the chance to work with him.

Bringing together jazz, Americana, gospel and blues, this is a fascinating album that you want to keep listening to. As Lloyd put it, “The deeper I dive into the ocean of sound, I find there is still deeper and further to go.”

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