Saxophonist Charles Lloyd partnered with drummer-percussionist Billy Higgins on a series of intimate duets to create what would become Higgins’ final recording, “Which Way Is East.” Lloyd led an evening of hearty and far-reaching improvisation that was a top-to-bottom example of musical excellence, paying tribute to the multitude of avenues Higgins traveled in his 64 years.
A Los Angeles fixture for more than 40 years, from drumming in Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary quartet to running the World Stage in Leimert Park to expose youngsters to music, Higgins’ reputation centered on his joyous and giving spirit. “Which Way Is East” honored Higgins’ skills if not the passion he brought to nearly every project he was involved in; this was a cerebral night.
Lloyd opened, after unspooling a home movie on the making of the ECM album “Which Way Is East,” with Indian percussionist and drummer Eric Harland batting around ideas untethered to melody. The two supplied a rhythmic tennis match over which Lloyd sent shards of often mournful lines on tenor and alto saxes. Night was a distant cry from Lloyd’s more recent ECM discs filled with distinguished interpretations of known songs.
Lloyd, 66, turned to traditional jazz setup of piano, bass and drums for the second half of the nearly three-hour evening, giving ample room to the improvisational talents of Harland, pianist Gerri Allen and bassist Reuben Rogers.
Powerful yet pleasant, concert was a delightful prelude to UCLA Live’s ECM Festival in March, which will include perfs by the Keith Jarrett Trio, Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble and the Tomasz Stanko Quartet.