Saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd has led some rather spectacular bands over the years — from his heralded late-1960s quartet to the Marvels, his current group with guitarist Bill Frisell. Passin’ Thru, due out on Blue Note on July 14, captures the unique intensity of the Charles Lloyd New Quartet, a decade-long proposition with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums.
This album was recorded on tour, almost entirely in Santa Fe, New Mexico last July. There are a few recent compositions, including a searching piece called “Part 5, Ruminations” and the self-explanatory “Nu Blues.” But the album also reaches into the past, extracting new sounds and ideas from some of Lloyd’s classic calling cards, like “Dream Weaver,” “Tagore,” and the title track, “Passin’ Thru.”
This new “Passin’ Thru” begins with a dramatic open-form bass solo by Rogers, before kicking into its revved-up Caribbean beat. Lloyd plays the melody on tenor, in sync with Moran’s piano, and each artist takes a rangy, live-wire solo, punctuated by drum fills. (You’ll hear Moran calling out exhortations as he jabbers at the keys.)
Lloyd, who recently turned 79, is a spiritual seeker who tends to frame his musical output as part of a larger calling. He’s a 2015 NEA Jazz Master who can still give the impression of a restless soul: The New Quartet isn’t the sort of ensemble that a jazz elder would convene for the purpose of coasting. Passin’ Thru presents glowing evidence of the band’s flashpoint agility and rubbery cohesion, both natural extensions of Lloyd’s aesthetic instinct.
His choice of title track also provides a good opportunity to track his evolution: “Passin’ Thru” was the title track of an album credited to The New Amazing Chico Hamilton Quintet, in which Lloyd was a key member. That album was recorded in 1962 and released early the following year. The original “Passin’ Thru” has the same calypso gallop but a fuller front line: Lloyd’s tenor saxophone flutters alongside George Bohanon’s trombone and Gábor Szabó’s guitar.
Lloyd and Szabó, especially, were simpatico improvisers, as you can hear in this performance. Don’t miss a round of crosstalk that happens just after the four-minute mark, leading into a proper guitar solo. (Partly because of the island rhythm, their rapport is reminiscent of Sonny Rollins with Jim Hall.)
Following his tenure with Hamilton, Lloyd put in a stint with alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and then began to work and record on his own. His debut as a leader, Discovery!, was released on Columbia in 1964. (It includes the ballad “How Can I Tell You,” which resurfaces on the new album.) The following year, Lloyd left Adderley and formed his momentous quartet with pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
The Charles Lloyd New Quartet could fairly be described as an heir to the legacy of that group, though any close listening will show that to be a gross oversimplification. Passin’ Thru should establish definitively that the new band vibrates at its own frequency, and deserves its own full chapter in the story of Lloyd’s far-ranging career.
Passin’ Thru will be released on July 14; for more information, visit bluenote.com.