Street Sounds: A long, but worthy listen

Review of veteran jazzman Charles Lloyd’s debut band album, I Long to See You.

Veteran jazzman Charles Lloyd’s debut band album, I Long to See You, features an all-star band of intuitive players and atmospheric tracks. The songs are steeped in lush, unhurried themes that recall nostalgic sounds and classic urban jazz.

Lloyd’s band, the Marvels, with Bill Frisell (guitar), Greg Leisz (pedal steel), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Hartland on drums act as interpreters for

Lloyd’s abstract, bluesy music. The quartet allows Lloyd to weave in and around honking out hooks or riffing on the melody. Their eight minute take on Bob Dylan’s Masters of War unwinds rather darkly but the improvising musicians keep it wary and playful. It’s cocktail jazz for the crossroads, around the hour of midnight.

This reverie doesn’t persist for long and it becomes apparent that Lloyd and company have a lot of themes and ideas to share. Of Course Of Course is all bouncy and skippy ‘60s-type Austin Powers hooks while La Llorona is a stately composition with hints of a New Orleans lament in the melody.

In the first three tracks, the group covers a wide gulf of sound and emotion all the while sounding beat and relaxed. There’s much more.

I Long to See You is an album of the unexpected. What’s weird is how natural it sounds as if it’s normal to move from protest themes to bop to lush laments and on to traditional folk. Shenandoah, the 19th century folk song, is given an unrushed cinematic trip back to pre-civil war melodies. The album pivots on points like that song and is a cross section of traditional themes, ambiance and tasteful jamming (Sombrero Sam, All my Trials). They get abstract but are tuned into each song’s mood that nothing is wasted.

Towards the end of the record, closet jazz-head Willie Nelson appears to deliver a rickety version of Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. Nelson fits the band like a kindred spirit and plays off Lloyd’s horn with an old hipster’s sense of space.

Norah Jones joins the Marvels for a sparse take on the hoary old chestnut, You Are so Beautiful.  It’s the “loungiest” number on the record but it has its charms. Just to keep it fitting with jazz stereotypes, it has a song that runs 16:25.

With albums like this, you can’t be rushed, and amid the touchstone riffs, beatnik jazz, surfy ambiance and ancient arrangements are some gems to be heard. It’s an imaginative cross section of urban sounds and rural sentiments.

– Dean Gordon-Smith writes about the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.