with Zakir Hussain, Eric Harland, Gerald Clayton, Harish Raghavan plus special guest Bill Frisell
Sunday, June 3, 7 p.m. (doors open at 5:30)
Winery Sponsor – Arbor Bench Vineyards
Event Patron – Nion McEvoy
All jazz fans have their origin story, where they explain how they got into this music that we cherish. For people of a certain age – we don’t have to get too specific – chances are the gateway was Charles Lloyd.
He has to be considered a legend strictly on the basis of how many people he brought into the fold – tens of thousands. This was during rock’s psychedelic era, when the San Francisco sound was dominating the zeitgeist. And here was Charles, only recently a bandleader, with a quartet that was performing the Fillmore, was getting played on rock radio, and with whom rockers wanted to sit in. How did this happen? The band was unquestionably brilliant, with Keith Jarrett on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Cecil McBee on bass, but so many jazz bands were brilliant. There was a special kind of chemistry with this group, which, while unique then, will be familiar to anyone who’s been listening to Charles through the years.
If you’ve heard any albums by his New Quartet, particularly the latest, Passin’ Thru, or by an intriguing band he recently put together called The Marvels, featuring Bill Frisell on guitar along with a pedal steel guitarist, you will know. It’s a vibe that emanates from the leader’s horn, and from his personality. Maybe call it trust. Charles Lloyd trusts his band members, he trusts his audience, and he trusts the cosmos to feed him the incredible questing, beseeching, roaring sounds he gets out of his saxophone and flute. Now, at age 80, none of that has changed. His recent albums reveal that his strength and spirit are stronger than ever.It’s fitting we’re celebrating his 80th Birthday at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, which has its own birthday to celebrate: the 20th. Charles has been a part of this enterprise going back to 2000 when he allowed a 12-year-old kid named Julian Lage (see June 1) to sit in with him on guitar.
At the Jackson Theater Charles will be playing with some familiar faces, plus some new ones. Start with Zakir Hussein, who with Charles and drummer Eric Harland, constitute the band Sangam (right) which will perform this night. In the Hindu tradition “sangam” means the confluence of three rivers, a place to wash sins away. Zakir is without question the greatest tabla player in the world. The things he does with this hands and fingers on this small pair of Indian drums defy physics. He can literally power an orchestra with one hand while a single finger on the other drum plays a complex bebop bass line. Before he started coming to the United States in the ’60s he had already revolutionized tabla playing in India.
Zakir is one river in Sangam. Another is Eric Harland, who has served as the drummer in Charles’ New Quartet for a decade. Playing polyrhythms with exquisite feel and funk, Eric is in the top drumming ranks of his generation. When he and Zakir get going they form a rhythm stream that few musicians could conceivably navigate, but we, the audience get to. And then there’s the third river – Charles – the seeker, bringing his own jazz tradition of one, playing over, under, and beyond, tying it all together in a circle.
This time around, Sangam is likely to get a fourth river: Bill Frisell. Guitar hero Frisell is a special guest slated to play in different formats throughout this evening, and word is that he’s fascinated with Sangam. With Bill bringing his dominant colorations, the flow could change in truly fascinating ways.
Also on the bill are two rising stars of jazz – Gerald Clayton (left), a pianist of high polish and class, and Harish Raghavan, a bassist who has been turning heads in the jazz world’s capital, New York City. Charles will call the shots on this night, but we can expect duo, trio, and quartet configurations. With special guest guitarist Bill Frisell joining in, it’s anyone’s guess what surprises with burst forth on the stage.
It is not particularly unusual for jazz artists to perform well into their 80s. What is unusual is to keep seeking new sounds, new combinations of musicians, whatever their genre. Back in the ’60s Charles was really one of the first American jazz artists to reach out to musicians from around the world – not just Cuba. Now 80, he’s still at it. He’s still chasing the dream.