There must be something in the water over at Blue Note Records right now – how, otherwise, could you account for the resurgent creativity of three of its veteran stars, who are all, as Welsh poet Dylan Thomas once wrote, refusing to “go gently into that good night”; saxophonist Charles Lloyd, organist Dr Lonnie Smith, and drummer/vibraphonist/composer, Joe Chambers. At 83, Lloyd is the most senior of this august triumvirate, but as the music on ‘Tone Poem,’ the 47th album of his career and sixth for Blue Note so vividly shows, his playing exudes a sense of youthfulness and energy that you wouldn’t expect from someone supposedly coming to the end of their illustrious career.
This is Lloyd’s third outing with The Marvels, a pliable, super-simpatico band comprising shape-shifting guitar magus Bill Frisell, steel fretboardist Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, who have established a deep rapport with the Memphis-born saxophonist that’s grown since their first album together, 2016’s ‘I Long To See You.’ The new album’s varied material – which features two superb reworkings of two of free jazz maven Ornette Coleman most famous tunes, ‘Peace’ and Ramblin” together with a gorgeously languorous makeover of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Monk’s Mood’ – blurs the musical boundaries between jazz, Americana, country, soul, gospel and rock.
Lloyd, who alternates between tenor saxophone and flute, plays in a supremely masterful manner that reflects his many years’ experience. His ability to tell a story through his horn is perhaps best realised through his plaintive version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem,’ which is executed with elegant gracefulness. In contrast, the self-written ‘Dismal Swamp,’ despite its title, exudes a skittish playfulness and allows Lloyd to showcase his mellifluous flute playing. The inclusion of the expansive ‘Lady Gabor,’ written by guitarist Gabor Szabo when Lloyd played beside him in drummer Chico Hamilton’s group in the early ’60s, allows The Marvels to stretch out on a long, undulating groove while ‘The Prayer,’ defined by Lloyd’s rhapsodic saxophone effusions, Frisell’s glinting filigrees and Reuben Rogers’ mournful bowed bass, closes the album on a sanctified high.
Only one word will suffice in summing up this extraordinary album; marvellous. (Please note: ‘Tone Poem’ can be bought on CD but is also available on double vinyl as the first of Blue Note’s contemporary jazz releases to be issued in the label’s Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Series).