Comfortable — that's exactly the way the music sounds on Charles Lloyd's latest outing, though the tenor saxophonist is part of a quartet. Of course, coziness isn't always the best setting for keen jazz improvisation. But when clever participants feel snug enough to let their ideas pour forth, heights can be reached.
Lloyd was born nine days before Kuhn in 1938, and both are of a similar mind in terms of form. Voice in the Night, Lloyd's sixth outing for ECM, reveals how facile structures can yield enigmatic playing. Backed by bassist Dave Holland, guitarist John Abercrombie, and drummer Billy Higgins, the horn player has come up with a free-flowing treatise on eloquence. Lloyd's isn't the first name that rolls off the tongue when it comes to discussing imposing tenor players. Like Kuhn, he is a tad overlooked. Hopefully, the fluid moves of these eight new pieces will clear some of the haze surrounding the power of his art.
As each year passes, Lloyd polishes his approach a bit more. With a fascinating way of instilling the drive of more aggressive music into languid statements, he turns the tensile girders of hard bop into utterly flexible cables. There are moments on Voice in the Night — "Pocket Full of Blues" and Lloyd's hippie anthem "Forest Flower," for example — where the music just steadily unfurls. Much of the credit for this effortless groove goes to drummer Billy Higgins. When Lloyd used the drummer on a Knitting Factory gig at the New York Jazz Festival last summer, critics were referencing it for days afterward.
As far as grace goes, Higgins has no current competition on his instrument. Swirling his brushes over the snare, he ferries the rest of the band to myriad destinations. Enjoying the ride, Lloyd's horn offers eddies of golden tone on pieces as different as the Elvis Costello-Burt Bacharach melodrama "God Give Me Strength" and Billy Strayhorn's poetic "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." This is one of the saxophonist's finest outings.