Charles Lloyd’s engagement with rock is no passing dalliance: In the Sixties and Seventies, the saxist-flutist played the Fillmore, gigged with the Beach Boys and recorded with the post-Morrison Doors. But even that history doesn’t prepare the listener for how graceful and engaged the 80-year-old NEA Jazz Master sounds on this program – the second release by his genre-blurring Marvels quintet – half of which features the gorgeously weathered voice of Lucinda Williams.
On “Dust,” a new version of a song from Williams’ 2016 LP The Ghosts of Highway 20, the saxophonist and singer trade places in the spotlight like a pair of seasoned dancers. Lloyd’s molten, warbling phrases bubble up from the background during the final chorus, spilling over into a trippy instrumental coda.
The rest of the band is just as integral to the album’s savvy stylistic blend. On Williams’ new “We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around,” drummer Eric Harland shadows the singer with impressionistic cymbal flutters and snare rolls, while on an expansive version of “Unsuffer Me” (originally from 2007’s West), guitarist Bill Frisell and pedal-steel player Greg Leisz color her lines with twangy accents and shimmery ambience, respectively.
The instrumental tracks here bring the hybrid approach Lloyd first explored on Sixties staples such as Love-In to new heights of invention. “Vanished Gardens” suggests a beautiful sort of roots-music/free-jazz fusion, with Frisell’s sparkling loops and Lloyd’s abstract murmurs and cries hovering over an airy groove.
For the final two tracks, Lloyd strips the band back to its barest essence, first dueting with Frisell during a surprisingly vigorous take on the Thelonious Monk ballad “Monk’s Mood,” and then welcoming Williams back for a yearning trio reimagining of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel.” In each performance, his tenor lines spill forth in a blissed-out flow, agile yet poignant and consummately relaxed.
As diverse as the material here is, there’s no sense that Lloyd is putting on different hats. Like his career as a whole, Vanished Gardens shows how the many currents of American music all flow into a single stream.