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REVIEW: The Charles Lloyd Quartet’s Saxophone Colossus (Dakota Jazz Club)

Clock-wise from upper left: saxophonist Charles Lloyd, pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Eric Harland. The foursome comprise the Charles Lloyd Quartet, returning the Dakota Jazz Club this evening for the second half of a 4-show set. Original photos by D Darr and Devin DeHaven.

Charles Lloyd – the 83-year-old NEA Jazz Master – brought an all-star quartet to a crowded Dakota Jazz Club last night for the first of four shows. (Their last two shows are this evening at 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm.) The performance that was originally scheduled for two years back; it was worth the wait.

Lloyd is living musical history. Along with playing with, and learning from, some of the greatest names in jazz — Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Bobby Hutcherson, Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, Joe Zawinul, Roy Haynes, Ron Carter, Miles Davis, Bobby McFerrin, and many more – he has also accompanied prominent figures from across the musical spectrum, including Howlin’ Wolf, B. B. King, Keith Jarrett, the Doors, the Byrds, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, and Lucinda Williams.

For the current tour, Lloyd’s quartet has an impressive lineup, filling out with Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Eric Harland on percussion. Clayton (son of bass player and composer John Clayton) has four Grammy nominations, and has been recording and touring with Lloyd since 2013. Harland – also multiple-Grammy nominated – was part of the band on Lloyd’s 2021 album Tone Poem. Raghavan, a Thelonious Monk Competition semifinalist, recently had his debut album as leader with Calls for Action (Whirlwind Recordings).

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd was declared a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2015. Photo by D Darr.

At times, Clayton laid down a calm melodic background against which Lloyd offered a challenging musical narrative: part Coleman, part Theolonious Monk. At other times, bass, drums, and piano combined to create a ground of conflict and controlled chaos, above which Lloyd’s saxophone (or, on one piece, flute) provided a satisfying resolution. It was a masterclass of group interaction and improvisation.

When Lloyd plays the sax, he often seems to be wrestling the notes bodily from the instrument – bouncing or bending with his instrument to get just the right note (this is how he has always played – it is as evident from a 1966 recording as in a wonderful rendition of “Requiem” last year). On performing into his 80s, Lloyd told Jazzwise magazine in 2020: “Today I bring everything I have ever played, but I try and maintain ‘a beginner’s mind’. I have both the benefit of experience and the desire for new discoveries. You can’t bring everything you know all at once, that’s the error of youth. I’m not denying the young Charles, but as my character becomes whole the music gets better.”

Last evening, Lloyd and his supporting cast were all business: going from song to song, not saying a word to the audience until the very end. Before completing the set, Lloyd noted his close bond with Dakota owner, Lowell Pickett, and how, though he (Lloyd) generally does not play clubs anymore, he “still likes to be near the people.”

I strongly recommend being near this Jazz Master this evening, before he and the magnificent quartet leave town.

Pianist Gerald Clayton with saxophonist Charles Lloyd; the pair have toured together since 2013. Photo by D Darr.

The Charles Lloyd Quartet performs again tonight at 7 and 9 PM at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, MN.

Brian Bix