Well, meditation is a discipline too. And though given to philosophical utterances and tributes to the Creator, Lloyd comes across as grounded — of this world, the here and now. So much so that even as he slips in a sly reference to Coltrane ("after the rain"), he never forgets my name or where I'm calling from.

"Were you at that concert I played at BU years ago that people still talk about? Late '60s — '67, '68? They had candles all over the stage — people were ready, man. I don't remember it, but people are always reminding me about it."

Well, that was slightly before my own time at BU.

"Ask me anything man, just shoot. Point and shoot."

Actually, I wanted to talk to him about the band and the new album.

"Just listen to the record and dream, and then go inside and look up at the interior sky, and then come out with all that beautiful poetry that you writers have and tell people that these guys will be coming and they'll be bringing it and they're drunk with the elixirs of love and trust and the music and they don't have a place in the world. They're kind of . . . how do you say . . . uh [sigh], I wouldn't call us . . . [laugh] . . . Yeah, we're old school, but the wisdom of the ancients and modernity exists here too . . . Am I ruining your interview, man?" He laughs again. "I just came from a walk, what do you expect of me!"

The album, he tells me, was recorded in a studio near his Santa Barbara home. It was a return, he says, to the mood of his 2000 album The Water Is Wide. "It's a cousin to that record a little bit. What happened was, I felt the world needed more tenderness, because things were harsh. And so I made that record." The new disc, he says, is a return to those "tenderness sutras." Taking a break from touring, the band spent two days in the studio. "So we just played these tender pieces, and something interesting I'll share with you: I didn't tell the band what we were going to record.

"I only played one song for Jason, which was 'La Llorona.' " Lloyd was thinking of the rough-hewn recording by the Mexican folksinger Chavela Vargas. "The song is about a woman who has kids, and she's got a man she wants, and he doesn't want anything to do with the kids, and she offs her kids and goes with this guy. She spends the rest of her life longing for her children. Chavela Vargas, she had a garble in her voice — she was not an ingénue. She had seen life, and she could really sing that song."

Lloyd achieves the operatic emotions of the piece by underplaying rather than overplaying. "My tone breaks up in there. Because you can't be perfect. I can't do Chavela Vargas, but I recorded it really beautifully. And then Dorothy [Darr, Lloyd's wife, manager, and co-producer] came into the studio and said, 'That's not going to work. You're going to have to give it up.' And I knew what she was saying, so I just cried a little into the saxophone." Lloyd starts howling atonally into the phone to show how he gave up the needed emotion. "And these guys, they bear with me, you know?"

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