Jazz in the details

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Can’t let ’99 roll out without a nibble at one of this year’s overlooked morsels: tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s soothing, funky, melodious session released back when the snows were still upon us. A veteran of Chico Hamilton’s quintets – in which thick guitar chords replaced piano backup – Lloyd homes in, this time, on fairly familiar modal territory.

The sax-electric guitar-bass-drums format has often been a seductive detour around bop clichés (hear: Jimmy Giuffre-Jim Hall, Paul Desmond-Jim Hall, Sonny Rollins-Jim Hall, Stanley Turrentine-Kenny Burrell, Ornette Coleman-Pat Metheny, Joe Henderson-John Scofield, Don Byron-Bill Frisell and more). In fact, the Stan Getz-Charlie Byrd bossa nova sessions are particularly relevant here – not for their Brazilian content, but the way they look forward to Lloyd’s tender, airy-toned exchanges with John Abercrombie’s soulful lines.

But what makes this record a journey not taken before is its ensemble interplay, a floating magic carpet in which each thread stands out vividly: Abercrombie’s angels-on-a-pin guitar loveliness, the specific weight of bassist Dave Holland’s fat authority and drummer Billy Higgins’ sensitive mastery of swing. These are old hands holding up the maturity of Lloyd’s sumptuous but vulnerable tenor as it sings into the night.

The quartet takes a "both-and" approach to Elvis Costello-Burt Bacharach’s "God Give Me Strength": both lyrical and rocking. Lloyd’s four-part, extended "Pocket Full of Blues" makes funk lovely, a sexy undulation you wish would never stop. And "Forest Flower: Sunrise/Sunset," Lloyd’s jazz-rock hit of the ’60s, offers both wistful recollections and new blithe pathways, depending on who’s listening. The irresistible capper is a version of Billy Strayhorn’s "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" that will make you want to dim the lights.

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