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Charles Lloyd - The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow (Blue Note)

15 March 2024

Saxophonist Charles Lloyd celebrated his 85th birthday (onstage, as he always does) in 2023. A lot of musicians of his generation might take it easy at this point, content to coast on their reputations and their bodies of work. Not Lloyd, however; since signing with Blue Note ten years ago, he’s consistently changed it up from album to album, cycling between different studio and live bands and different aspects of his repertoire. Following his 2022 Trios project (three different albums by three different musical threesomes), Lloyd assembled a fresh group for his new album The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow.

Concerned by the state of the world, the saxist brought together old and new tunes, with an ear toward inspiring melodies and arrangements. He wanted to bring his vision to life with a combination that had never backed him before – thus, even though he’d played with pianist Jason Moran and bassist Larry Grenadier, he’d (somehow) never worked with drummer Brian Blade, and never with this particular lineup. Luckily, the musicians’ familiarity with each other, not to mention their respect for Lloyd, keeps them maintaining a tight connection, sounding more like a band that’s played together for years than a new outfit in studio for the first time.

Lloyd responds to this inspiring combo with tunes meant to nurture – to feel good. Not in a party-hearty sort of way – this isn’t a good-time Saturday night sort of LP. Instead, he brings in material – including the warm but vibrant “Booker’s Garden,” the enigmatic, atmospheric “Defiant, Tender Warrior,” and the spiraling “Cape to Cairo” – that soothes without being soporific, challenging the mind in a friendly, rather than combative, way. Thus the remarkably free title track encourages its audience to contribute to the (controlled) chaos, rather than be intimidated by it. “The Ghost of Lady Day” can nod to its titular inspiration (Billie Holiday) without drowning in sentimentality, inviting its listeners to enjoy the composer’s reminiscence, or to use the song as a springboard for their own. “Sky Valley, Spirit of the Forest” can take us through postbop, third stream, and chamber jazz and be a fascinating journey instead of an overwhelming experience.

Lloyd visits familiar territory as well, re-recording the spirituals “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Balm in Gilead,” as well as some originals. Those performances offer a roadmap to Lloyd’s intentions, but not arrows pointing directly at them. The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow avoids explanation but plants plenty of clues, making it the kind of album that allows those who hear it to find their own meaning.