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Charles Lloyd - Trios: Ocean (Blue Note)

23 September 2022

The second release in Charles Lloyd’s “Trio of Trios” project, following Chapel from a couple of months ago, Trios: Ocean puts the alto saxophone great in the mix with guitarist Anthony Wilson and pianist Gerald Clayton. Minus a rhythm section, one might think this would be a warm, sedate set. To a certain extent, it is – while Clayton pushes the melodies with his left hand, there’s no raucous rhythm attacks here, no rushes to climax. “The Lonely One” opens the album with a slow burn of piano and saxophone, as Wilson lays back so much he’s nearly ambient. But about halfway through, atop Clayton’s melodic keyboard work, Lloyd brings the fire, pushing his horn further and further out in ways we’re not used to hearing from him. It’s a natural progression, too – Lloyd doesn’t suddenly start wailing, but instead builds on his improvisations from the beginning, making the wild-eyed tornado of notes feel earned.

Free jazz seems to be a guiding principle for “Hagar of the Inuits,” the following tune, as well. But it’s not the aggressive firestorm hinted at by Lloyd’s playing on the previous song, but instead the playful, smile-inducing whimsy of Jimmy Giuffre. Clayton and Lloyd start off playing seemingly (but not truly) random notes up and down two different scales, with Wilson joining in on the fun as the song progresses, turning in a strong solo. Despite that kickoff, however, the song resolves itself into a bluesy swing after Wilson’s break, likely headed in that direction all along. As would be surmised by the title, the blues is an even bigger guiding spirit for “Jaramillo Blues (For Virginia Jaramillo and Danny Johnson)” – Clayton’s old school piano stylings dominate, but Lloyd shines brightly on his flute solos.

The record ends with “Kuan Yin,” a rich, gentle twisting of the ballad form that, again, features some of Lloyd’s and Wilson’s most spirited playing, though no one ever goes truly out. Still, it’s a gorgeous way to end this remarkable record, giving a conclusion to this portrayal of three musicians nonchalantly channeling the same wavelength.