From his initial explorations of the blues of his Memphis youth to the sweet-and-sour psychedelic soul and free-jazz blend of
, saxophonist/flautist/iconoclast Charles Lloyd has never played it straight.
Whether as a composer or band leader, he made the cross-pollination of jazz, funk, rock, noise, and non-Western music percolate long before Miles Davis' Bitches began to brew. And with I Long to See You - the album by his new band, the Marvels - and sold-out Sunday-afternoon showcase at Montgomery County Community College, he showed no signs of giving up that grooving ghost. "I have no agenda; I'm all music," he said before the show.
With a dynamic, rich tenor saxophone style that jumped between the sweetly smooth and the roar of a Coltrane, Lloyd was a genial, chatty host, even with occasional lapses into crankiness (don't open a door when the show has started, don't NOT clap when the beat requires it).
Lean and handsome with a porkpie hat, Lloyd, 78, shimmied and shuffled when his musicians took their solos in the nearly two-hour set.
For the record, the Marvels are aptly named: an inventive, deep-in-the-pocket rhythm section of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland with guitarist Bill Frisell - whose own blend of cool jazz, surf, gospel, and country made him Lloyd's equal regarding mixed-bag prowess - and a set list that ranged from the rumbling rhythmic complexity of "Nu Blues" at show's start to the simple serenade at concert's end - a medley of the Christian hymn "Abide with Me" and Lloyd's own "Come Sunday."
Between those poles, Lloyd and the Marvels feasted on Dylan's "Masters of War," turning that protest song into a master stroke of dark but cosmopolitan blues with a hypnotic duel between Lloyd and Frisell at the end.
"Shenandoah" was a longing, yawning hillbilly jaunt that grew unhinged with Harland's double drum riffs. The gently thrummed and strummed "Tagore" conjured cinematic images of gunfights in old Mexico - all hazy melodic atmospheres and rhythmic kinks - until struck by Lloyd's circular squiggles and mallardlike honks.
Led by Frisell's Hawaiian slack key guitar-note bending, "Passin' Through" was an immensely danceable African high-life shuffle, with Lloyd's sumptuous subtone moving in serpentine fashion through the howl and thump of his three teammates.