Charles Lloyd shows off his control of space and sound in Trios: Chapel

Charles Lloyd’s Trios: Chapel, the first of a three-album series presenting him in a trio setting, highlights the American multi-instrumentalist’s control of space and sound. Set in the minimalist context of drum-free chamber jazz, it finds the 84-year-old weaving his deep-seated creativity into guitarist Bill Frisell’s resonant Americana and Thomas Morgan’s counterpoint bass. Ocean, with pianist and guitarist Gerald Clayton and Anthony Wilson, and Sacred Thread, featuring guitarist Julian Lage and percussionist Zakir Hussain, are due to be released later this year.

Although the Chapel Trio perform regularly, this album captures their remarkable 2018 debut at Coates Chapel, in San Antonio, Texas. By then, guitarist Frisell had been a pivotal member of Charles Lloyd’s band the Marvels for three years, and therein lies the trio’s intimacy and warmth.

The performance begins with Lloyd’s elegiac reading of Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood Count”, written in 1967 shortly before the composer’s death. The saxophonist renders the melody in wispy tones, Frisell’s harmonies curl like wreaths of smoke and answering phrases shimmer gently into space. As the piece progresses, the pace picks up and Morgan’s bass is to the fore. But the bittersweet mood returns, and the track fades with the trio wistfully intertwined.

“Song My Lady Sings” comes next, a waltz from Lloyd’s 1966 album Of Course, of Course. As on the original, the theme is first played on guitar and Lloyd’s sax enters some distance in. Sax now follows the gentle curve of Morgan’s double bass solo and Lloyd refines the experience of those intervening years into a glow of gentle romance. Then “Ay Amor”, originally a ballad hit for the Mexican singer-songwriter Ana Gabriel, now delightfully showcases Lloyd’s pitch-perfect flutters and Frisell’s deep-toned strums.

The final two compositions find Lloyd first on flute and then jamming over Tex-mex harmonies. “Beyond Darkness” floats in and out of tempo and is less austere than the title suggests. “Dorotea’s Studio”, from the 1999 album Voice in the Night, finds sax and guitar creatively relaxing over walking bass swing.

★★★★☆

Trios: Chapel’ is released by Blue Note; Charles Lloyd and The Marvels play at Love Supreme Jazz Festival on July 2

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