Thirty years after turning on both jazz and rock auds, Charles Lloyd’s reputation in jazz circles has never been better. He has an absorbing new album, “Voice in the Night” (ECM), and is surrounding himself with musicians of real stature, all of them leaders in their own right.
Yet even with the all-star firepower on hand — essentially a duplication of the new CD’s lineup, with Marc Johnson replacing Dave Holland on bass — much of Lloyd’s first set at the Jazz Bakery Friday night didn’t quite ignite.
The 61-year-old Lloyd is sticking exclusively with the tenor sax these days, and it is paying off at times with some of the most human, emotionally involving playing of his life. Wearing a black hat and looking a bit irritated (“Hay fever,” he mumbled), Lloyd was most effective when emitting a variety of moans, shrieks and multiphonic effects within the bop context in mid-solo.
Yet much of the potential energy of the first set was scattered among spiritual indulgences that didn’t quite come off, unfocused soloing from guitarist John Abercrombie, and some surprisingly self-indulgent Billy Higgins drum solos.
Faulty balances, an ongoing problem in the tricky acoustic space of the Bakery, laid waste to a good deal of the opening number. Things did improve midway through the set, though Abercrombie and Johnson could be heard properly only when Higgins opted for crisper, sparer textures. Eventually, Abercrombie got into the right gear, crawling thoughtfully through Higgins’ joyous polyrhythms, while Johnson displayed some swinging chromatic ideas in a fine bass solo. The musicmaking came together wholeheartedly in the final number, Lloyd’s Mexican folk-song-flavored “Dorotea’s Studio,” in which Johnson displayed a lot of wily, lyric fun in his bowed bass solo. With pros like these interacting with one another, it was just a matter of waiting them out.