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Chapin Hall, Williams College

Saturday, April 16, 2005

by J Hunter

Ken Kesey said it: “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” That pretty much sums up the Charles Lloyd Quartet, who blew (and freed) many minds in Chapin Hall Saturday night. From the snake-charmer opening of “The Sufi’s Tears” – a cut from his latest disc, Jumping The Creek (ECM) – Lloyd and Co. put the audience on unspoken notice: “This is going to be a challenge, for you and for us. We’re up for it. How about you?” Those who took up the challenge were stunned, then mesmerized, then elated, rewarding the quartet’s sublime performance with two standing ovations.

“This stuff takes you into a zone,” said Bob Forget, lead singer for the Albany rock band 10 Flat. “And not a bad one, either.” It’s not surprising Lloyd’s music has that next-level effect, given his many years as an instructor of transcendental meditation. Great music speaks to you on many levels, but Lloyd doesn’t just want to speak to those parts of your mind; he wants those parts to come out and play. The effect is noticeable, both on his audience and his band mates.

For this group, the “free” in “Free Jazz” means “freedom from fear.” Each member played what they felt, what was appropriate, when it was appropriate. It seemed at times (particularly during a breathtaking deconstruction of Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas”) that these were four people playing four different tunes, completely collaborative but entirely separate. The effect was not unlike watching four artists throwing paint at the same canvas from different parts of the room. For a few, it was pandemonium; for the rest of us, it was watching masterpieces appear one at a time.

Lloyd never spoke during the 90-minute set, though not out of surliness or attitude. Warmth emanates from the 68-year-old master. He shows a genuine affection for his audience and his bandmates, none whom were born when Lloyd recorded “Forest Flower”, which closed the regular set. Geri Allen’s solo on “Go Down Moses” had the seated Lloyd smiling over his shoulder at the black-clad pianist; at different points he watched bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland from the back of the stage, both times beaming like a proud grandfather.

Harland doesn’t play the drums – he inhabits them, using every surface and every implement available (including bare hands) to find the softest tap or the loudest explosion. Rogers matched Harland volt for volt, showing depth and range reminiscent of a young Ron Carter. Allen was a rock of stability throughout the evening, sitting placidly in the midst of chaos, ripping off solos that were crystalline one moment, passion-filled the next, as the band strived to create what Harland calls “that family sound.”

At first it seemed incongruous to hear this psychically charged music in Chapin Hall, a venerable structure that resembles one of the Oxford sets of Brideshead Revisited. Then it made perfect sense: You find great works in great institutions of learning. The Charles Lloyd Quartet performed great works Saturday night. And it was definitely worth the drive.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.