Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: Tone Poem review – heady ideas from a celebrated jazz elder

In the 1960s, Charles Lloyd was a reeds-playing jazz-fusion star with a 21-year-old Keith Jarrett for a sideman and a young audience with psychedelic leanings. After a long midlife break from playing, he returned transformed in the 1980s with a poignantly personal sound on saxophone and flute; in the decades since, he has become one of jazz’s most cherished elders. Lloyd is 83 now and, like many original improvisers who have seen a lot of water under the bridge, he conserves his energies more these days. But his art has long inclined more to distillation than expansion – glimpsing the southern blues of his Memphis childhood, John Coltrane’s heart-rending tenor tone or Ornette Coleman’s bluesy skittishness, sometimes even the timbres of eloquent non-jazz singers such as his Greek friend and sometime playing partner Maria Farantouri.

Tone Poem is the third release by Lloyd’s country-steeped band the Marvels, featuring guitarist Bill Frisell – a fan since hearing Lloyd in the 60s as a teenager in Denver – with pedal-steel player Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. There are no singers, but the music constantly evokes the sounds of songs. Lloyd’s tenor is softly preoccupied on Ornette Coleman’s Peace, and he slews breezily across the free-harmony of the same composer’s Ramblin. Over Frisell’s boogieing groove, his quavering upper tone and squabbling whispers muse over languid country-ballad guitar harmonies on Leonard Cohen’s Anthem. Bola de Nieve’s Ay Amor! is a highlight, as is a grippingly dirgelike Monk’s Mood – but the standout is Lloyd’s homage to his old California cronies the Beach Boys, on an ethereally slow-burning bonus-track arrangement of In My Room.

Also out this month

Alone Together (Decca/Universal) is a classic-covers set from the rising young UK piano generation including Reuben James, Joe Armon-Jones and Sarah Tandy – spanning the 1920s hit Crazy Rhythm, through James’s fine reimagining of Duke Ellington’s In My Solitude, Armon-Jones’s punchy account of Golden Brown and Tandy’s thoughtful investigation of Billie Eilish’s idontwannabeyouanymore. Gretchen Parlato, a unique vocalist whose soulfulness is a matter of delicate insinuation and airy Latin grooves, is at her understated best on Flor (Edition), after a six-year recording break. And Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler’s exhilarating Punkt.Vrt.Plastik trio with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Christian Lillinger mingles racing, strutting arrhythmic conundrums and bass-walking jazzy grooves on Somit (Intakt). Sharp-end jazz, but succinct, witty, and steered with awesome precision by all three.