Album review…Charles Lloyd Quartet, “Rabo de Nube” (ECM, 2008)

[This review was originally published in Jazz Improv Magazine in 2008. -ML]

In celebration of his seventieth birthday, Charles Lloyd is releasing Rabo de Nube, recorded live in Basel, Switzerland, on April 27, 2007. This album features Lloyd’s newest quartet, with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. This group infuses new life into some vintage compositions, while establishing benchmark versions of new material. This performance will prove far-reaching in its appeal across audience groups and iconic in stature as one of Lloyd’s finest records by one of the most formidable groups of the early twenty-first century.

Rabo de Nube, ECM 2053. Personnel: Charles Lloyd, tenor sax, alto flute, tarogato; Jason Moran, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums, percussion. Tracks: Prometheus; Migration of Spirit; Booker’s Garden; Ramanujan; La Colline de Monk; Sweet Georgia Bright; Rabo de Nube.

The newest member of the group, Jason Moran, uses his individual style and instrumental command to elevate the music at every turn. His enlightened and uncompromising sense of rhythmic sophistication is heightened by an affinity shared with drummer Harland—both studied together at Houston’s School for the Visual and Performing Arts. Moran shows off an encyclopedic range of pianistic styles, invoking stride piano, Monkisms, and more avant garde tone-cluster accompaniment. Needle-droppers will want to take special notice of the “miniature” climax at 2:25 on “Ramanujan,” which showcases the band’s quasi-telepathic camaraderie. In this moment, Rogers and Harland are compelling Lloyd (here on tarogato, a Hungarian single-reed woodwind) through an elaboration of a motive Rogers has been playing over the vamp structure. Sensing the change, Moran instantaneously (as in less than one second later) switches from the tone clusters he has been employing to a most satisfying sequence of parallel triadic harmony, mimicking Roger’s riff. The band immediately moves off in another direction, leaving the audience awe-struck. Such transcendent moments abound through the entire record.

In addition to the aforementioned track, there is a tribute to Booker Little (“Booker’s Garden”), a new rendition of the Lloyd classic, “Sweet Georgia Bright,” the title composition, an arrangement of “Rabo de Nube” (“Tail of a Cloud”), composed by Cuban Silvio Rodriguez, and several other new Lloyd compositions. On the opening track, “Prometheus,” Lloyd announces his presence with great authority, uniting the extended improvisation around a small, but fiery theme. During his solo, Rogers deconstructs the hard-swinging structure Lloyd built, redirecting the piece toward a more, reflective atmosphere. Moran picks up the mantle with a post-Romantic sensibility, before allowing the rest of the quartet to re-enter to once again build up the frenetic, hard swinging pace with which they began. Harland commands the stage with an impressive solo, while Lloyd (on alto flute) and Moran quote the piece’s theme in the far-off distance—its plaintive calls float in stark contrast to Harland’s virtuosic polyrhythms. The composition comes to a close with a final group exploration of this theme, closing to uproarious applause.

Most of the tracks on this album are episodic in length and development—ranging between ten and fifteen minutes long. Listeners preferring shorter compositions should exercise patience in experiencing each composition in its entirety, and be reassured that at no time does the music ever stagnate or fall short of impassioned drive and intensity. By exploring varying instrumental timbres and allowing each of his sidemen to fully develop his ideas, Lloyd orchestrates not only a masterful performance, but also a testament to the primacy of the live jazz experience. The complexity of each composition insures that a listener continuously returning to Rabo de Nube with always find fresh insights and new joys in every moment of the album. By capturing this evening on record, Lloyd has given us—for his birthday—a gift of unparalleled artistry.

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