When I first saw Lloyd in concert (if memory serves it was in 1967, not long after Ron McClure had replaced Cecil McBee on bass in Lloyd’s quartet) he was regarded with suspicion, if not actual hostility, by the general run of British critics. Good grief, man, one of his albums sold a million copies and many of the purchasers had heard him perform at rock venues. How could he be any good?
Since then I’ve been lucky to see him in most stages of his development, including his excellent partnership with Michel Petrucciani, and during that time he has been widely recognised, quite rightly, as a significant figure in post-bop jazz. Certainly the audience in the packed Barbican Hall had no doubt about the quality and authority of his music, with admiration expressed in a sustained standing ovation that elicited four further pieces: La Llorona, Nachekita’s Lament, Tagi and Hymn To The Mother, which included a recitation by Lloyd.
Lloyd was partnered by pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Marvin Sewell, whose bottleneck blues feature prompted one of the most boisterous shows of appreciation of the evening. The set opened with the only non-Lloyd composition, Ornette Coleman’s Peace, beautifully interpreted by all. The selection from Lloyd’s catalogue included How Can I Tell You? and The Song My Lady Sings, two of my favourite pieces from his early years, but given rather different treatments, as well as Ruminations, Lift Every Voice and Booker’s Garden.
Lloyd showed some signs of physical frailty (and he’s entirely entitled to at 85) but his playing is as compelling as ever. Over the decades his tone has distilled somewhat, which serves his often delicate and meditative compositions well, but he can still dig in and whip up excitement as well as sensitively explore more subtle emotions.
The evening was intended to illustrate new approaches to the trio configuration, including the omission of a drummer. The support act was led by Sami-Norwegian saxophonist Mette Henriette and was completed by Johan Lindvall (piano) and Judith Hamann (cello). Henriette has tackled a wide-range of genres. Their set concentrated on the music from the trio’s recent ECM album, Drifting.
It seemed to me that, as so often in Scandinavian jazz and improv, there were subtle echoes of traditional folk music, but certainly the performance had the overall feel of classical chamber music. Whichever, the performance was utterly spellbinding, keeping the members of the huge audience in the cavernous hall as enthralled and emotionally involved as if we were in an intimate venue, focused on the most delicate of gestures. The trio’s interplay, though doubtless achieved through much hard work and experience, seemed instinctive and magical.
Charles Lloyd’s Ocean Trio / Mette Henriette Trio at Barbican Hall, 17 November 2023 as part of the London Jazz Festival