Saxophonist Charles Lloyd has had a remarkable career. He joined drummer Chico Hamilton‘s group in 1960, quickly becoming its de facto leader: he wrote almost all the music for Passin’ Thru, A Different Journey, and Man From Two Worlds, all of which were released in 1963. In 1964, he began recording as a solo artist, and in 1966 he formed a quartet with pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. That group made four albums — one studio and three live — before McBee was asked to leave.

(In a 2015 interview, McBee told me, “We had agreed that the success of the music was the most important consideration of our existence, collectively, and a couple of times I saw something that was not coherent with that, so I brought up the fact that I felt that we were getting away from what I thought we were, conceptually, or even with our demeanor on the stage… and when we got back to Philadelphia after the gig I was fired.”)

Lloyd replaced McBee with Ron McClure and recorded four more albums, including the platinum-selling Love-In, before the group split up in 1968. The Seventies were a weird time for Lloyd; he made several albums nobody seemed to care about, and spent a lot of time as a sideman, recording and touring with the Beach Boys and appearing on albums by Canned Heat and the post-Jim Morrison version of the Doors. In the Eighties, he worked a little, but nearly died in 1986 and took several years off to recover. He staged his real comeback in 1989, when he signed with ECM. He recorded for them until 2015, making well over a dozen albums in a variety of styles before signing with Blue Note, for whom he currently records.

Two new compilations of live material from 1966 and 1967 have recently been released, adding substantially to the legacy of the Lloyd quartet. Live 1966, a two-CD set, features the Cecil McBee incarnation of the group. (Get it from Amazon.) It was recorded at concerts and radio performances at Stockholm’s Gyllene Cirkeln (where Ornette Coleman famously recorded twin live albums in 1965); at the Juan-les-Pins Festival in Antibes, France; and a radio performance and a concert in Cologne, Germany. The two tracks — versions of “Love Song to a Baby” and “Love Ship” — from the radio session feature the quartet backed by an orchestra.

The sound varies from performance to performance. The Golden Circle recordings are slightly rough, but well mixed, while the Antibes concert has Lloyd and DeJohnette much louder than the rest of the band (McBee in particular is barely audible at times). Because these are all recordings from the same year, several pieces appear in multiple versions, most notably “Love Ship,” which is performed three times, and “Love Song to a Baby” and “Autumn Sequence,” which are heard twice each. Everything here is worth hearing, with the band playing hard throughout, but the most striking discovery are the two orchestral tracks (versions of “Love Ship” and “Love Song to a Baby”), on which the lush backdrop inspires some forceful and exploratory blowing from Lloyd.

Montreux Jazz Festival 1967, also a double disc, contains two full performances recorded in a single day: an afternoon set and an evening set. (Get it from Amazon.) At this point, with McClure in the bass chair and the other three prepared to push each other, the music was much more abstract and exploratory than it had been just a year earlier. Each set is constructed the same way. There’s a relatively straightforward and (relatively) concise opening number, a longer and more meandering second piece, and then a marathon performance to conclude.

The first set begins with a version of “Days and Nights Waiting,” a Keith Jarrett composition that can also be heard on Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union, recorded in 1967 but not released until 1970. That lasts just under seven minutes. That’s followed by a 12-minute version of Gábor Szabó‘s “Lady Gabor,” which Lloyd first recorded on Chico Hamilton‘s Passin’ Thru. The third and final track is one of Lloyd’s best-known tunes, “Sweet Georgia Bright,” but it’s rendered nearly unrecognizable. To begin with, it’s almost 32 minutes long, and features extended passages of solo tenor sax, only interrupted by DeJohnette’s drums. It’s not until the nine-minute mark that Jarrett and McClure enter, and the energy level is extremely high for quite a while. Not John Coltrane-in-1966 high, but this is a much freer version of Charles Lloyd than many listeners may be familiar with. Jarrett and McClure both take long solos, but it’s at the 24-minute mark or thereabouts, when DeJohnette begins bowing his cymbals, inspiring Lloyd to moan and chant, that things head into a truly unexpected space. Some laughter can be heard from the audience, but there’s applause, too. Lloyd finally brings it home in the final three minutes, turning the piece back into a swinging post-bop number, but he’s taken this crowd on a journey, and for the most part they were willing passengers.

The second set follows a similar pattern; it begins with a nearly 10-minute “Love Ship,” continues with a 12-minute “Love Song to a Baby,” and concludes with a 28-minute “Forest Flower.” All this material shows that while McBee’s contributions to the band in its first year were crucial, it was after his departure that things got really wild. Both these sets should be essential listening for fans of the Charles Lloyd Quartet, and could even serve as an introduction to their work, before diving into their eight Atlantic albums.

Phil Freeman

Buy Live 1966 from Amazon

Buy Montreux Jazz Festival 1967 from Amazon

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